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Likely Stories - Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Bewilderment - Powers

Richard Powers has published thirteen novels. He is a MacArthur Fellow and received the National Book Award. His latest novel is Bewilderment. He lives in the Great Smokie Mountains.

Theo Byrne is an astrobiologist who searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old Robin, following the death of his wife. The story begins with Theo’s story. “But we might never find them?  We’d set up the scope on the deck, on a clear autumn night, on the edge of one of the last patches of darkness in the eastern U.S. Darkness this good was hard to come by, and so much darkness in one place lit up the sky. We pointed the tube through a gap in the trees above our rented cabin. Robin pulled his eye from the eyepiece—my sad, singular, newly turning nine-year-old, in trouble with this world. // “Exactly right,” I said. “We might never find them.” // I always tried to tell him the truth, if I knew it and it wasn’t lethal. He knew when I lied, anyway” (1).

To continue, “Can we sleep outside tonight, Dad? // I’d pulled him from school for a week and brought him to the woods. There had been more trouble with his classmates, and we needed a time-out. I couldn’t very well bring him all the way down to the Smokies only to deny him a night of sleeping outside” (2). We settled into our makeshift base camp. He seemed happy, which had been the whole point of this special trip. Lying down on bedspread out on the slats of the sagging deck, we said his mother’s old secular prayer out loud together and fell asleep under our galaxy’s four hundred billion stars” (3).

Robin suffered from a bewildering array of afflictions. Richard wrote, “I never believed the diagnoses the doctor settled on my son. When a condition gets three different names over as many decades, when it requires two subcategories to account for completely contradictory symptoms, when it goes from nonexistent to the country’s most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder in the course of one generation, when two different physicians want to prescribe three different medication, there’s something wrong” (4).

“The next day, we took to the woods. Robin was wired. Nine.  I get to ride in front! The law finally freed him from his safety seat in the back. He’d waited for the front-seat view his whole life. Geez.  Tons nicer up here” (16). Some of Power’s previous novels involved close examination of flora and fauna. Richard Powers has an affinity with nature—especially trees. Bewilderment is an apt tile for his touching story with his son. 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.