Bewilderment: A Novel (Hardcover)
October 2021 Indie Next List
“Richard Powers is peerless when conveying the intimate and universal in family relationships. Bewilderment is tender, riveting, and true. It took my breath away.”
— Lesley Rains, City of Asylum Bookstore, Pittsburgh, PA
I’ve seldom cared so deeply for characters in a novel as I did for Theo, brilliant astrophysicist, confused father; his equally brilliant and erratically ungovernable nine-year-old son Robin—whom Theo is trying to stabilize while avoiding the psychotropic drugs the school is insisting the boy take—and, always offstage but haunting every page, Alyssa, Aly, wife of one, mother of the other, now deceased. This is a love story in the deepest sense of the word—between father and son, between husband and wife, and, in memory, between mother and son. When the novel opens Theo and Robin are camping, nature (however defiled) being the one place that seems to calm the boy, aside from the imaginary inter-planetary visits on which father takes son at night. But nature and imagination can only work if a parent doesn’t work—the triple bind of single parents whose children are emotionally or neurologically troubled. Although steeped in cutting-edge science, be it environmental, astrophysical, or psychological, Powers’ tale is so intensely personal that the implacable forces abroad in our out-of-joint world become intensely personal too, the truth of our increasingly disastrous imbalance moving through the reader’s heart and head alike. Yet I turned the final page of Bewilderment in my own state of bewilderment—not confused by the whys of what happens to Robin or Theo or Aly—but rather by the cosmic whys of humankind, of our country, our planet. The reality that the world as we know it is slipping off its axis has never been raised as cogently or with such urgent passion. Something the most sublime of novels—and Bewilderment is one of those, no question—have a way of doing.— From Betsy Burton
AN OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB SELECTION
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2021
Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction
A Best Book/Best Novel of 2021 at NPR, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Audible, Goodreads, Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, Garden & Gun Magazine, and many more
A heartrending new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Overstory.
The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain…
With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son’s ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers’s most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?
— Oprah Winfrey
Extraordinary.…Powers’s insightful, often poetic prose draws us at once more deeply toward the infinitude of the imagination and more vigorously toward the urgencies of the real and familiar stakes rattling our persons and our planet.
— Tracy K. Smith, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
A heartrending tale of loss.…Powers continues to raise bold questions about the state of our world and the cumulative effects of our mistakes.
— Heller McAlpin - NPR
Nothing short of transportive.
[A]stounding.…a must-read novel.…It’s urgent and profound and takes readers on a unique journey that will leave them questioning what we’re doing to the only planet we have.
— Rob Merrill - Associated Press
As in The Overstory, Powers seamlessly yet indelibly melds science and humanity, hope and despair.
— Dale Singer - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Bewilderment is a big book about what matters most.…a brilliant, engrossing, and ultimately heartbreaking book.
— David Laskin - Seattle Times
[P]oignant…Bewilderment is a cri de coeur.…this is a hauntingly intimate story set within the privacy of one family trapped in the penumbra of mourning.
— Ron Charles - Washington Post
You could think of it as ‘The Innerstory’: It is about how and whether we see the world we inhabit.... It is enchanting, and it is devastating.
— Ezra Klein - The Ezra Klein Show
Immersive and astonishing.…Powers captures the tragedy of a species that could, but perhaps won’t, become a lasting part of a cosmic menagerie. But in this absorbing and effortlessly readable tale he seems to have also found uplifting poetry in our despair.
— Caleb Scharf - Nautilus
A moving depiction of filial love, as father and son confront a world of ‘invisible suffering on unimaginable scales.
— The New Yorker
In Bewilderment, [Powers's] mastery strikes a new vein.…it raises goosebumps and breaks our hearts.
— John Domini - The Brooklyn Rail
Achingly current and wise.
— Bethanne Patrick - Washington Post
[Powers] wants to
challenge our innate anthropocentrism, both in literature and how we live.
— Alexandra Alter - New York Times
Remarkable.... Bewilderment channels both the cosmic sublime and that of the vast American outdoors, resting confidently in a lineage with Thoreau and Whitman, Dillard and Kerouac.
— Rob Doyle - The Guardian
One of America’s most ambitious and imaginative novelists.... In a year of unprecedented worldwide drought, fire, and flooding, [Bewilderment] couldn’t be timelier.... Whether concerning family or nature, this heart-rending tale warns us to take nothing for granted.
— Alexander C. Kafka - Boston Globe
The tenderness between father and son seem[s] so real and heartfelt that the novel becomes its own empathy machine. What’s more powerful, though, is how the emotions Bewilderment evokes expand far beyond the bond of father and son to embrace the living world.
— Ellen Atkins - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Powers [has] an
emotional core to everything he writes, and this sets him apart from nearly
— David Yaffe - Air Mail
tearjerker.... The most moving and inspiring of all Powers’s books.
— Gish Jen - The New Republic
Intimate.…Powers is an essential member of the pantheon of writers who are using fiction to address climate change.
— Carolyn Kellogg - Los Angeles Times
Powers succeeds in engaging both head and heart. And through its central story of bereavement, this novel of parenting and the environment becomes a multifaceted exploration of mortality.
— The Economist