Gain (Magill Book Reviews)
The one hundred seventy year history of the fictional Clare Soap and Chemical Company is an American success story that author Richard Powers elaborates in remarkably accurate detail in his continued quest to understand the origins of post-modern American society. With the careful detail he used to explore the mass production of automobiles in THREE FARMERS ON THEIR WAY TO A DANCE (1985), medical developments in PRISONER’S DILEMMA (1988) and OPERATION WANDERING SOUL (1993), and the computer revolution in GALATEA 2.2 (1995), Powers traces the growth of a family-operated company through its expansion and eventual incorporation to the point that its wastes poison the environs surrounding its plants.
The subplot of this multiplot novel concerns Laura Bodey, a single mother, a fortyish real estate agent, who develops ovarian cancer traceable to Clare Company pollutants that seep into the streams and soil of Lacewood, Illinois, her home. The Clares, who founded the company, are not villains, nor are the subsequent corporate executives who transformed Clare into a thriving multiproduct enterprise. Yet as the company grows, sinister health implications of its growth escape those whose chief concern is with expansion.
Laura Bodey’s story alternates with the intricate history of the Clare Soap and Chemical Company, with its growth from a small New England factory to an industrial behemoth. The ultimate irony is that Clare, a company that revels in...
(The entire section is 308 words.)
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Gain (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Richard Powers’s multiplot novel Gain is another volume in which the author seeks to understand and trace some major currents that have shaped postmodern American society. In his five previous novels, Powers has focused on the automobile industry, the brokerage business, the computer revolution, immigration problems, genetics, medicine, and a host of crosscurrents that have formed the character of contemporary America. In each of these novels—Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), Prisoner’s Dilemma (1989), The Gold Bug Variations (1992), Operation Wandering Soul (1994), and Galatea 2.2 (1996)—Powers has posed searching questions about the modern world, always focusing upon one or more salient aspects of modernism, interspersing the chapters that deal with the roots of postmodernism with other chapters or sections that present individualized portraits of characters involved in creating revolutionary technologies or upon whom such technologies have significant effects.
Powers uses a similar format in Gain. A major story line presents, in considerable detail, the development of the Clare Soap and Chemical Company from a small soap and candle manufacturing operation begun in 1831 to a huge industrial conglomerate that, by 1900, has spread from its original site in Massachusetts to Ohio and subsequently as far west as central Illinois, in which much of the novel is set. The...
(The entire section is 1865 words.)