The Overstory by Richard Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel but truth be told I wouldn’t have awarded it any kind of literary prize. The book is about a group of nine characters who all come to care deeply about understanding and saving the world’s trees.
The book reminded me a bit of The Goldfinch another Pulitzer Prize winner. Both books start out wonderfully by setting up intriguing plot possibilities with interesting characters. I was completely drawn in. Then both descend into a kind of reading black hole where the characters do crazy things that are often completely unrealistic and frankly leave you frustrated when they go on and on and on. In both books I found myself plowing through the middle section. And finally, the conclusion of each book fails to satisfy. After sticking doggedly with your characters through all that trauma and mythical mess surely there will be some sort of happiness or hopefulness for them in the end. Sorry. No such luck.
Certainly, I learned a whole lot of fascinating stuff about trees from reading The Overstory but some of the information was delivered lecture-style when there would have been, in my opinion at least, more interesting ways of giving us the same information.
The book is a bit like Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, another novel about the importance of saving the environment, where you are also introduced to a group of seemingly disparate characters at the beginning of the book and then you wonder how they will all weave their way into one story. Barbara, however, has only three main characters in Prodigal Summer. Richard Powers might have stuck to fewer characters as well. The storylines of three of Richard’s nine main protagonists never really merge with the story of the other six.
I wanted to like this book. A friend had recommended it. I had heard a glowing review on the radio. It won the Pulitzer Prize. I love trees and that is what this book is all about.
But honestly, I didn’t like The Overstory. I’d love to hear from other people who have read the book. What did you think?