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Likely Stories : The Overstory, by Richard Powers


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels.  He is the recipient of a MacArthrur Fellowship and the National Book Award, and he has a Pulitzer Prize and is a four-time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.  His latest book is, The Overstory.


amazing and absorbing story begins with a series of substories about trees and how they affect the environment.  The first episode is titled, “Nicholas Hoel.”  Powers writes, “Now is the time of chestnuts. // People are hurling stones at the giant trunks.  The nuts fall all around them in a divine hail.  It happens in countless places this Sunday, from Georgia to Main.  Up in Concord, Thoreau takes part.  He feels he is casting rocks at a sentient being, with a duller sense than his own, yet still a blood relation.  Old trees are our parents, and our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance.  If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity…” (5).  This is a splendid beginning for this magnificent novel.

Another sample is of “Adam Appich.”  Richard continues, “A five-year-old in 1968 paints a picture.  What’s in it First, a mother, giver of paper and paints, saying, Make me something beautiful.  Then a house with a door floating in the air, and a chimney with curls of spiraling smoke.  Then four Appich children in descending order like measuring cups, down to the smallest, Adam.  Off to the side, because Adam can’t figure out how to put them behind the house, are four trees: Leigh’s elm, Jean’s ash, Emmett’s ironwood, and Adam’s maple, each made from identical green puffballs. // ‘Where’s Daddy?’ his mother asks. // Adam sulks, but inserts the man.  He paints his father holding this very drawing in his stick hands, laughing and saying, What are these—trees?  Look outside! Is that what a tree looks like?” (47).

The last sample is “Ray Brinkman and Dorothy Cazaly.”  Powers wrote, “They’re not hard to find: two people for whom trees meant almost nothing.  Two people who, even in the spring of their lives, can’t tell an oak from a linden.  Two people who have never given woods a second thought until an entire forest marches for miles across the stage of a tiny black-box theater in downtown St. Paul, 1974.  Ray Brinkman, junior intellectual property lawyer.  Dorothy Cazaly, stenographer for a company that does depositions.  // She catches him gazing, and dares him, with a glance, to own up.  He does.  It’s easier than dying from acute distant admiration.  She agrees to go out with him, if she can pick the venue.  He signs off on the deal, never imagining the hidden clauses.  She picks an audition for an amateur production of Macbeth” (64-65).

Richard Powers’ latest novel—The Overstory—is an enchanting story of trees and their hold on the environment.  He offers a warning of the danger of over-destruction of forests. 5 Stars!


Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!


Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.