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The Overstory

Written by: Richard Powers
Narrated by: Suzanne Toren
Length: 22 hrs and 58 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 52.62
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2019

A monumental novel about reimagining our place in the living world, by one of our most "prodigiously talented" novelists (New York Times Book Review).

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable that range from antebellum New York to the late 20th-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits 100 years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another.

These and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by trees, are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

©2018 Richard Powers (P)2018 Recorded Books

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Alexandria
  • 2018-04-18

Astonishingly powerful writing.

Where does The Overstory rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

It’s up there with the top three.

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

As a book of short stories some resonate more than others. HOWEVER, you would just listen for the exquisitely skillful writing, it’s really quite beautiful.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Well yes, I wanted to but the beauty of the short story is you can try them on in different moods, times of day, it’s in bite size pieces. There is an overarching narrative where each story reveals its connection to its neighbors. But, the skill of the writer is such that the spirit of each tale stays with you. You can stop and start and never risk missing the culmination. Most impressive book I’ve read in the past year, maybe longer.

112 of 116 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael Stansberry
  • 2018-05-23

eye opening

I'm a fuel guzzling truck driver but this book made me wanna pull my semi to the side of the road And hug a tree

244 of 255 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ellen L.
  • 2018-06-21

Mind blowing

If we could send one book into orbit to tell whomever else it out there who we are (or were) and why we messed things up so fully, this one might be it. One of the best pieces of fiction I've ever read. Highly recommended.

30 of 31 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Chels Alexandra
  • 2019-02-28

Awe-inspiring writing but annoying narration

The writing: an exciting story interwoven with fascinating, true science about nature. An urgently important perspective. I felt elevated to another plane with a different sense of scale and time.

The audiobook: the narrator over-does it with the ethnic accents and a main character’s speech impediment. All the men’s voices are raspy and brash; all the women’s voices are lilting and soft. It gets a bit annoying once you notice that her voices are so stereotyped; I would have preferred a more subtle performance. So I’ll be (re?)reading the text to fully enjoy the book.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • tess pechka
  • 2018-04-16

Complex

Well worth one's time/credit. I probably should wait till I reread before reviewing but I am glad that I took a chance. I found the writing vivid and poetic and the characters engaging. Certainly the subject/problem is vitally important to all Earthlings. I loved this book, tho' the ending sort of ripped my heart out. Now I will check to see what else Powers has written.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kate
  • 2018-10-09

Could Not Stay With Narration

I think this book would be better of read rather than listened to. It's a rich and interesting story but also detailed with lots of pieces that fit together. I love interweaving of trees and humans. Life. But the narrator's lilting voice, while pleasant, either puts me to sleep or leaves mind open to distraction. I just can't stay focused on the story because I drift off. I'm not half-way through it and have just decided to give up. The story is great but the performance kinda ruined it for me.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Vince Reardon
  • 2018-05-04

We Are a Part of Nature

This majestic novel reminds us that we are not apart from Nature but are a part of Nature, and our survival may depend on our collective realization of that reality. Divided into four parts: Roots (which introduces the nine main characters), Trunk (which shows how the characters are related to one another, although several never actually meet), Crown (which catches up with the characters 20 years later), and Seeds (which shows you how each ends up). Powers creates a group of lively and believable characters, most born in the '50s and '60s, who emerge slowly and lushly over time, much like a stand of trees.

Perhaps the most interesting and riveting of characters is Dr. Patricia Westerford who conducts original research proving that trees are social creatures that "must have evolved ways to synchronize with each other." Rejected and ridiculed by the scientific establishment, she leaves academia to become forest ranger. Another character Adam Appich, a grad student in psychology, also fascinated me. He discovers that "humans need good stories to be persuaded by scientists' alarms." Late in the novel he concludes, "Humankind is deeply ill. The species won't last long. It was an aberrant experiment." I am not, however, certain that that is Powers' opinion.

While listening to "The Overstory," I felt the spirits of Thoreau and Muir nearby. Also nearly were: James Lovelock whose Gaia hypothesis postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system, Donald Peattie's "Natural History of North American Trees," and German forester Peter Wohlleben's "The Hidden Life of Trees." It is interesting that Patricia Westerford shares the same initials as Peter Wohlleben.

This is one of Powers' finest works. I heartily recommend it to those who love Nature, especially trees and forests, and are worried about the fragile state of the environment around the world. This novel will draw you deeper and deeper into that complex, shimmering and often invisible world.

Finally, the Audible narrator Suzanne Toren is superb. A great novel requires a great narrator. Toren fits the bill. She brings "The Overstory" to life.

56 of 61 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Diane
  • 2018-06-01

Brilliant, life-changing

I seldom write reviews, and I very rarely give Five Stars, much less three of them. For me, a book has to be brilliantly written and address real issues of human life amidst the changes of world or planetary history. This has those traits. The last book I rated this highly was "The Book Thief," several years back. This book has me seeing trees differently, seeing our present dilemmas differently, and wondering on about the richly drawn characters Powers offers us. Suzanne Toren delivers a performance of a lifetime as the many individuals who make up this story, voicing them with a sympathy and knowledge of the character's traits that I doubt could be equalled. Bravo! and Brava! to author and narrator.

51 of 56 people found this review helpful

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 2018-10-28

BLINK OF THE EYE

Humanity’s years of life are but a blink of an eye. Richard Powers, like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, tilts at a windmill that neither generates power, grinds corn, or pumps water.

You love Powers way with words but come away from “The Overstory” feeling like Quixote’s relatives–mourning his loss of sanity but rejoicing in his belief of love and life.

In travels around the world, one witnesses China’s ecological crises when everyone, including indigenous Chinese, drink bottled water. Our guide in India notes his country is teetering on the brink of ecological catastrophe. And, our American President denies global warming by calling it a hoax. It seems unlikely the world will wake up before it is too late.

Trees may have a language, but technology is unlikely to provide any translation that humanity will accept. One hopes Powers’ imaginative story is a Cervantes’ tale; not a prophecy.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Josh Mitteldorf
  • 2018-05-05

Deep. Engaging. Wise. Unforgettable characters.

So much of the best and worst of human nature, set against a backdrop of slo-mo ecological collapse. The worst, of course, comes out in the interplay between politics and capitalism.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful