Reviews for Bewilderment

by Richard Powers

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A widower pursues an unusual form of neurological therapy for his son in this affecting story.Astrobiologist Theo Byrne, 45, looks for life in outer space while his 9-year-old son, Robin, seeks to protect endangered animals on Earth. Both are still grieving for the boys mother, Alyssa, an animal rights activist who died in a car accident two years ago as she swerved to avoid hitting an opossum. Since then, Robin has been subject to tantrums and violence and variously diagnosed with Aspergers, OCD, and ADHD. Theo has resisted medication and turns to a university colleague who is experimenting with a neurological therapy. Powers has followed his awarding-winning, bestselling The Overstory (2018), a busy eco-epic featuring nine main characters, with this taut ecological parable borne by a small cast. Its a darker tale, starting with an authors note about Flowers for Algernon and continuing through Robins emotional maelstrom, Theos parental terrors, and, not far in the background, environmental and political challenges under a Trump-like president. Yet there are also shared moments of wonder and joy for a father and son attuned to science and nature and each other, as well as flashbacks that make Alyssa a vibrant presence. The empathy that holds this nuclear family together also informs Robins ceaseless concern and efforts on behalf of threatened species, just as the absence of empathy fuels the threat. As always, theres a danger of preachiness in such stories. Powers generally avoids it by nurturing empathy for Robin. While the boys obsession with the fate of the planets nonhuman life can seem like religious fervor, it has none of the cant or self-interest. He is himself a rare and endangered species.A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A widower pursues an unusual form of neurological therapy for his son in this affecting story. Astrobiologist Theo Byrne, 45, looks for life in outer space while his 9-year-old son, Robin, seeks to protect endangered animals on Earth. Both are still grieving for the boy’s mother, Alyssa, an animal rights activist who died in a car accident two years ago as she swerved to avoid hitting an opossum. Since then, Robin has been subject to tantrums and violence and variously diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and ADHD. Theo has resisted medication and turns to a university colleague who is experimenting with a neurological therapy. Powers has followed his awarding-winning, bestselling The Overstory (2018), a busy eco-epic featuring nine main characters, with this taut ecological parable borne by a small cast. It’s a darker tale, starting with an author’s note about Flowers for Algernon and continuing through Robin’s emotional maelstrom, Theo’s parental terrors, and, not far in the background, environmental and political challenges under a Trump-like president. Yet there are also shared moments of wonder and joy for a father and son attuned to science and nature and each other, as well as flashbacks that make Alyssa a vibrant presence. The empathy that holds this nuclear family together also informs Robin’s ceaseless concern and efforts on behalf of threatened species, just as the absence of empathy fuels the threat. As always, there’s a danger of preachiness in such stories. Powers generally avoids it by nurturing empathy for Robin. While the boy’s obsession with the fate of the planet’s nonhuman life can seem like religious fervor, it has none of the cant or self-interest. He is himself a rare and endangered species. A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Powers, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory (2018), focuses his new, intimate novel on loneliness, tragedy, and love for life and family. Theo, an astrobiologist, and his sensitive nine-year-old son, Robin, who has a keen interest in nature, struggle to adapt following the unexpected death of spirited wife and mother Aly. When Robin has a fit of rage at school, Theo realizes he must seek treatment. Opposed to pharmacological intervention, he enrolls Robin in an experimental therapy, known as decoded neurofeedback, which matches brain-pattern activity to a model brain print from another individual. The other individual in Robin’s case? Aly, his deceased mother. As therapy progresses, Robin transforms, perceiving biodiversity with fresh insights, wonder, and fascination. He is happier, more inquisitive, and even motivated to fight for environmental change amid the inexorable ecological doom all around him. But will these surprisingly positive outcomes persist? With soaring descriptions and forthright observations about our planet and the life it supports, Bewilderment is centered on a devoted father-and-son relationship, but it also offers rich commentary on the complex, often mystifying intersections between science, popular culture, and politics. In the end, Theo, who searches for alien life in remote outposts of the universe, may make his most profound discovery, together with his son, much closer to home. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: As the best-selling The Overstory continues to reverberate, readers will be excited to turn to another deeply involving Powers novel.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Powers, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory (2018), focuses his new, intimate novel on loneliness, tragedy, and love for life and family. Theo, an astrobiologist, and his sensitive nine-year-old son, Robin, who has a keen interest in nature, struggle to adapt following the unexpected death of spirited wife and mother Aly. When Robin has a fit of rage at school, Theo realizes he must seek treatment. Opposed to pharmacological intervention, he enrolls Robin in an experimental therapy, known as decoded neurofeedback, which matches brain-pattern activity to a model brain print from another individual. The other individual in Robin’s case? Aly, his deceased mother. As therapy progresses, Robin transforms, perceiving biodiversity with fresh insights, wonder, and fascination. He is happier, more inquisitive, and even motivated to fight for environmental change amid the inexorable ecological doom all around him. But will these surprisingly positive outcomes persist? With soaring descriptions and forthright observations about our planet and the life it supports, Bewilderment is centered on a devoted father-and-son relationship, but it also offers rich commentary on the complex, often mystifying intersections between science, popular culture, and politics. In the end, Theo, who searches for alien life in remote outposts of the universe, may make his most profound discovery, together with his son, much closer to home. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: As the best-selling The Overstory continues to reverberate, readers will be excited to turn to another deeply involving Powers novel.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Pulitzer winner Powers (The Overstory) offers up a marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life. Astrophysicist Theo Byrne simulates worlds outside Earth’s solar system as part of lobbying efforts for a new spaceborne telescope. As a single parent in Madison, Wis., his work takes a back seat—his wife, Aly, mother of their nine-year-old, Robin, died two years earlier. Theo shares his fictional descriptions of life on exoplanets with Robin in the form of bedtime stories, and they bond over a Trumpian administration’s hostility to scientific research. Theo allows Robin to protest neglect of endangered species at the state capitol, despite Robin’s volatile behavior. He’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and ADHD, and Theo refuses to give him psychoactive medication (“Life is something we need to stop correcting,” goes Theo’s new “crackpot theory”). More cutting-edge is the neurofeedback program run by an old friend of Aly’s, who trains Robin to model his emotions from a record saved of Aly’s brain activity. It works, for a while—the tragic, bittersweet plot has some parallels to Flowers to Algernon. The planetary descriptions grow a bit repetitive and don’t gain narrative traction, but in the end, Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime. Though it’s not his masterpiece, it shows the work of a master. (Sept.)


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Theo Byrne, a widowed astrobiologist who imagines life on other planets, is brought down to earth by his son Robin, whose irascibility and erratic moods are driving school authorities to distraction. Theo's only recourse is to put his own work aside and make Robin the center of his universe. The Byrnes' one remaining vestige of Robin's late mother is a brain scan, recorded years before in an experiment. Here is where Powers's story intersects with Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon. Robin undergoes a form of behavior modification called decoded neurofeedback treatment, using his mother's brain scan. He improves at first, but then becomes fascinated with the natural world, captivated to the point of overzealousness, leading to the erosion of hard-won progress. And as Robin's emotional state reaches a state of relative equilibrium, Theo seems to take on some of the characteristics Robin has left behind, even to the point of openly criticizing the psychologist trying to help his son. VERDICT Writing with the same remarkable attention to detail found in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory, Powers has created a world and characters that will suck readers in and keep them fixed until the literally bitter end.—Michael Russo, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

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