book: the overstory

Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Anna: Verdict: 3.5/5 books

The Overstory follows the lives of several characters who eventually come together. I found myself wondering how in the world these characters and their stories would connect, which is what motivated me to keep reading. There’s one thing all the characters have in common: their love of trees. 

Perhaps like the growth of trees, this is a dense, slow book that’s overwritten at points. It could have been cut by a good 200 pages or so. There’s a lot going on in a forest, and Powers attempts to comment on all of it. 

The beginning- which reads like short stories- is a study and introduction of each character. I like this part of the book best, because I generally enjoy character studies and not a lot of plot. One of the most impressive parts of this book is that all the characters and their stories do become. 

The way that Powers writes about trees is beautiful. I try not to read a lot of reviews before writing my own, but I did peek at some for The Overstory. One Goodreads reviewer called this “tree porn.” Tree porn this certainly is, and I’m blown away by the understanding and research Powers displays on biology and earth science, tree species, and the complexities of environmental activism. I’ve never thought much about terrorism as activism, which is one of the environmental avenues explored in this book. The question of why plant lives are less important than human lives is one of the most interesting themes here, but there’s so much else going on that I think it gets a little lost.

I also didn’t love the ending. I think Powers killed off characters for the sake of not knowing what else to do. Much like the long stories in the beginning, a drawn out ending followed the interlocking narratives in the middle.

Overall, The Overstory, is a massive, detailed, and flashy experiment on trees. I wanted to spend more time in the activism part of the story, which instead fell short (literally) in comparison to the rest. I’m happy I read this, but truthfully I probably won’t read any Richard Powers again.

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