On the surface, The Gold Bug Variations consists of two intertwined love stories, those of former DNA scientist Stuart Ressler and Jeanette Koss, Ressler’s married lover, and of reference librarian Jan O’Deigh, thirty-four, and art historian Franklin Todd, thirty. Powers’s title gives readers the initial wink. This book has something to do with Johann Sebastian Bach, the eighteenth century composer of The Goldberg Variations, and with Edgar Allan Poe, the nineteenth century author of “The Gold Bug.” Poe’s short story is cryptic; from the outset, Powers’s novel is equally cryptic.
Arcane meanings lurk in unexpected places throughout The Gold Bug Variations, making rereading the book perhaps more pleasurable than the initial reading. The novel overflows with word games and puzzles relating to numbers and to science; this is the sort of book that makes for challenging group reading and discussion.
Stuart Ressler, once a member of the University of Illinois team that cracked the code of the DNA molecule, has faded from public view. Franklin Todd knows him, however; Ressler works with Todd, a part-time computer hacker working nights. He fascinates Franklin. It is clear that Ressler, who now—apparently by choice—lives at the subsistence level, once experienced a little more than the fifteen minutes of public recognition that Andy Warhol suggested was every American’s due.
Eager to know more...
(The entire section is 459 words.)