Bewilderment: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition/First Printing
  • Published : 21 Sep 2021
  • Pages : 288
  • ISBN-10 : 0393881148
  • ISBN-13 : 9780393881141
  • Language : English

Bewilderment: A Novel

An Instant New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2021
Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction

A heartrending new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Overstory.

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He's also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin's emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother's brain…

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son's ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers's most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

Editorial Reviews

Richard Powers has published thirteen novels. He is a MacArthur Fellow and received the National Book Award. His most recent book, The Overstory, won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He lives in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Readers Top Reviews

Mac McAleerV. O'Rega
This is an enjoyable book. It provided me with a thoughtful story based around a father and his son, what we have done to the planet and especially what we have done to the other life on the planet. I also found the book’s structure and style made it easy to read. My preconceptions of the book were changed on reading it. Promotional material had mentioned the violence of the young boy and of trips to other planets. The mention of violence had initially put me off, but I found that it was only an isolated incident. The trips to other planets suggested a heavy science fiction or fantasy element, but these were mind-trips, created by the boy’s father as bed-time stories (1). THE STORY concerns a widower and his son, both consumed with grief for their recently dead wife and mother. It begins with father and son on a camping holiday in the hills, celebrating his son’s ninth birthday. The boy is full of hurt and anger and his father has problems coping with his son’s behaviour. She had worked in animal rights and her ideas had deeply affected both of them. The father was under pressure from his boy’s school and the doctors to medicate his son, but he resisted. This pressure greatly increased after his son’s act of extreme violence on another pupil. Searching for a solution, his father turns to a psychologist in the local university who uses an experimental method called DecNef (2). They have recordings of earlier DecNef sessions undertaken by the boy’s mother and he is trained on these. The effects of this treatment on the boy form the main part of the book. THE BOOK does not have chapters. These are replaced by short untitled scenes of between a half-page to several pages in length. Each scene is flagged by starting on a new page, with part of the first sentence in uppercase. The scenes are punctuated by the father’s stories to his son of alien planets and their different eco-systems. There are also two background threads. The first has scenes about climate change events. The second has scenes about the political climate caused by the US President. This structure seems to drag you along in the story. The sentences are also short and accessible. It is the ideas that are complex. FOR SOME READERS this book is too didactic, too scientific and too preachy. They will like the characterisation of a bereaved father and son, the long shadow of the deceased mother, the lost wife and nurturer. They will like how the father tries his best to help and protect his disturbed child. They will not like the technological psychology, the astrobiology and the environmental gloom. For others, all of these things will come together and give a thoughtful and positive read. ____________________________________________________________ (1) The father works as an astrobiologist. He spends his time creating simulations of alien planets and their...
Dr sarah skinner
Oh my goodness just when I was forced to assume the 2021 Booker prize had been a bit of a damp squid along comes the late entry into the ring ,shortlisted before it was even published This book had me in floods of tears containing as it does a mixture of neurodiversity ,astrophysics and the beauty and variety of nature on our home planet Earth I was so engrossed in the book from the very start that I lost track of what was real and what was an alternate reality . The book is beautiful,tender a hymn to the dangers to the planet of neglecting nature The characters are natural and yet somehow more than that ,they are exaggerations of human variety but such subtle exaggerations that behavioural traits are instantly recognisable in people you know The book had me in soggy blubbery bits but was totally unputdownable
Richard BarbieriAnge
By trying to combine a family and environmental story with an American political dystopia and take on global catastrophe and an even worse Donald Trump political nightmare, Powers loses all empathy and hope. I only finished it to confirm what a nightmare it is.
Powers is a genius. Where Overstory was epic and diverse, Bewilderment is intimate and concise. Both are amazing, life-altering reads by a brilliant writer. It takes a singular talent to pack astrobiology, neuro-divergence, grief, humor, and love into such a slim capsule that still packs a whollop on every page. I hated the ending, but I understand it. This is an amazing, emotional, resonant, eye-opening novel. Read it and then read it again. I know I will.
It's beyond dispute that Richard Powers is an extraordinary writer. He describes the natural world so beautifully that I long to visit the places he describes and join his characters in a tent in the Smokey Mountains, and--as in The Overstory--he argues compellingly that our world is in danger and needs immediate intervention before we lose beauty and meaning we don't realize is around us. His depiction of a widower raising a young boy who's "on the spectrum" is similarly insightful and devastating. [Quick aside: I've read many reviewers who take issue with Theo's parenting decisions, particularly his reluctance to medicate his 8-year-old son. As a clinical psychologist who worked with children and families for years, I both empathize with and understand his struggles and decisions and don't fault him in the slightest] However, this is a book about devastating loss, both of the natural world and of loved ones. That sense of loss permeates every page, and the connection between the loss of a wife and the destruction of our planet is clear, particularly as expressed through Theo's son Robin. Through an intriguing process based on biofeedback, Robin is able to connect with his deceased mother and see the world through her eyes, giving the reader an alternative and more forgiving way to engage with those around us. When the funding for this research disappears--which is blamed on a President modeled explicitly on Trump--Robin experiences his own "Flowers for Algernon" moment, leading to a conclusion that should be heartbreaking but is instead simply too much. What a book so explicitly centered on loss needs is hope, usually through providing the reader insight into how one can continue to live--and perhaps even thrive--in unbearable circumstances. Powers doesn't provide this. Instead, he piles on the despair: unanswered questions about whether Theo's wife Alyssa was faithful to him and whether Robin is even his son on the personal side; a US President who succeeds in his January 6 coup and becomes essentially an authoritarian dictator, a police force and local-level bureaucrats who function as his secret police, and a complete dismantling of funding for the sciences on the political side (those of a certain political persuasion will HATE this book); and mad-cow disease transferring to humans, a disease spreading to wheat plants across the world, toxins and wildfires running rampant throughout our environment, and more on the national side. All of this becomes unbearably painful in such a short book and there's not even a lack of resolution, but a lack of belief that healing is possible. The book is interspersed with scenes of Theo and Robin visiting different planets, and contemplating how changes in orbits, proximity to other bodies, size, atmosphere, and so on would impact life on those planets is intriguing. My impression is ...