The Gold Bug Variations

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Analogies pervade and direct the course of this amazing book. It deals with nearly all of life’s larger questions while simultaneously maintaining an intriguing story line that provides the philosophical underpinnings of a work so rich in ideas that parts of its meaning will explode continuously and unexpectedly in readers’ minds for months after they have read it.

On the surface, the book contains two parallel love stories, those of Stuart Ressler (wrestler?), a scientist who helped unravel the mysteries of the DNA molecule, and his married colleague, Dr. Jeanette Koss; and of Jan O’Deigh, a reference librarian, and Franklin Todd, Ressler’s friend, a dissertation away from a Ph.D. in art history. As the title suggests, a structural core of the book is Johann Sebastian Bach’s thirty (the number of chapters in the book) GOLDBERG VARIATIONS and the four notes from which this complex composition ensues, four notes that parallel the four nucleotides of the double helix. Another structural core is Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold Bug,” at whose heart is decoding.

Powers demands that readers simultaneously decode his elegantly complex novel and decipher the meanings of the various mysteries that constitute its intellectual nexus: DNA with its double helix, Bach’s counterpoint, artificial intelligence, and the mysteries of human relationships that, in this book, twist themselves into the double helix of the DNA molecule....

(The entire section is 504 words.)