The Overstory - Richard Powers

Disclaimer: W. W. Norton sent me a complimentary copy. Additionally, if Norton has a fan girl group, I’m a founding member. I have been a fan of this publisher since college where I used their excellent critical editions.

If you are going to read one book this year, it should be The Overstory by Richard Powers.

If you are going to read one book in your lifetime, it should be The Overstory by Richard Powers.

At first glance, the novel seems to be a series of stories about a group of people who have little in common. There are a few geniuses, an artist, an at odds college student, a vet, a coder among others. There are also the trees that branch throughout the story.

The characters do eventually connect with each, they are branched together like the roots of the trees they love.

That’s point really, the trees and our connection to them. One of the most beautiful chapters in the book concerns Patricia and her discovery about trees. And it’s true. All of what happens and all the science about trees in the book is true. 

Because the central characters are so varied in backgrounds, Powers is able to illustrate, to showcase, why many myths and stories center around trees. Its not the just World Tree from mythology, but also in the Grimms’ version of Cinderella where a tree on the dead mother’s grave gives the girl her dresses and shoes. There is a reason why trees are central, and The Overstory reminds us of why, of why trees are so important to everything- not just forest life, but coding and math and psychology. You don’t always get the connection but words like branch and truth come from a group that is far older than we acknowledge.

The book is about trees and about humanity.

It deserves all the stars.

It will make you look at trees and people in different ways.

There are beautiful sentences like "But people - some fathers- are written over by trees" (119) and "For the first time, she realizes that being alone is a contradiction in terms. Even in a body's most private moments, something else joins in" (158). Or "The freedom to be equal to the terrors of the day" (421). Or "That's life; the dead keep the living alive" (423)

Seriously, read this book. Love this book. Gift this book.