Richard Powers’s novels are tightly structured. They deal with an incredible array of complex material, as multiplot novels inevitably do. As in Powers’s earlier novels, The Gold Bug Variations juggles several concurrent stories. Molecular biologist Stuart Ressler is the unifying thread whom Powers employs to give his story the element of cohesion that novels require.
Although the plot begins just after Ressler’s death and proceeds through Jan and Franklin’s relationship with him, Powers flashes back to present in detail Ressler’s scientific accomplishments. About twenty-five years earlier, Ressler had helped to unravel the mysteries of the DNA molecule, defining the double helix that explains a great deal about how life is generated.
Another plot in this novel focuses on the romantic relationship between Ressler and his colleague Jeanette Koss, a relationship that helps define Ressler as a person but one that means less to Koos than it does to the brilliant and quite isolated molecular biologist. Koos’s defection marks the crucial turning point in Ressler’s life.
Powers’s re-forming of the title of Johann Sebastian Bach’s musical composition Goldberg Variations contributes significantly to the structure of The Gold Bug Variations: Bach’s remarkably complex composition has thirty variations, and Powers’s novel consists of thirty chapters. Bach’s variations are based on four notes,...
(The entire section is 473 words.)