Understanding Richard Powers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This contribution to the Understanding Contemporary American Literature Series of the University of South Carolina Press focuses on all of Richard Powers’s seven novels to date. Joseph Dewey shrewdly detects a complex structural unity within the first six novels, which he designates as the “odd numbered” novels (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance [1985], The Gold Bug Variations [1992] and Galatea 2.2 [1995]), and “even numbered” novels (Prisoner’s Dilemma [1988], Operation Wandering Soul [1993], and Gain [1998]). He calls Plowing the Dark (2000), the last of the seven novels, a summary text that brings together Emersonian engagement and Dickinsonian loneliness.

Given the complex structure of Powers’s novels, Dewey does not weaken his credulity when he seeks to impose upon the full corpus of Powers’s work to 2002 an overall structure than sheds light on a considerable amount of the complicated intellectual interrelating that each novel presents. Dewey’s intricate analysis of each of the seven novels is penetrating, at times brilliant. These analyses will be extremely helpful to readers of Powers’s work, much of which is sufficiently challenging to thwart the uninitiated. Especially notable is Dewey’s perceptive reading of The Gold Bug Variations, clearly Powers’s most intellectually demanding novel to date.

Understanding Richard Powers places Powers in his historical context as a postmodern, post- Pyncheon novelist who challenges many of the conventions of the pre-Pyncheon novel. Dewey also appreciates fully Powers’s remarkably inventive use of the English language.