Fiction Richard Powers Gain

ISBN 13: 9780312204099

Gain

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9780312204099: Gain

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Gain tells two parallel stories: one, of Laura Bodey, divorced mother of two and successful real-estate agent in the small town of Lacewood, Illinois, who one day discovers that she has ovarian cancer; and two, of Clare Soap & Chemical, the company begun by three merchant brothers in 19th-century Boston, which by the turn of the century has grown into a large multiconglomerate with factories in Laura's hometown. As the history of Clare Soap changes through the history of America, so a modern-day Laura Bodey descends into a battle with her terminal illness. By the novel's conclusion, we have learned how the largest enterprises affect us on the most personal level.

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Review:

Richard Powers made his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, a brilliant and almost unbelievably brainy meditation on what he calls "our tortured century." Since then he has produced four more novels, showcasing his mastery of genetics, art history, computer science, theology, aesthetics, and a host of other pointy-headed fields. The author's range--and the meticulous music of his prose, which suggests a considerably less zany Thomas Pynchon--is mind-boggling. Yet his subject remains fairly constant: the acceleration, and consequent dehumanization, of contemporary life.

In Gain, Powers puts our modernity through the wringer once again. This time, though, he points the finger at one villain in particular: rampant, American-style capitalism, as exemplified by a conglomerate called Clare International. His novel, it should be said, is no piece of agitprop, but an intricate lamination of two separate stories. On one hand, Powers describes the rise (and fall and rise) of the Clare empire, beginning in its mercantile infancy: "That family flocked to commerce like finches to morning. They clung to the watery edge of existence: ports, always ports. They thrived in tidal pools, half salt, half sweet." The author's Clare-eyed narrative amounts to a pocket history of corporate America, and a marvelously entertaining one. Lest we get too enamored of this success story, though, Powers introduces a second, countervailing tale, in which a 42-year-old resident of Lacewood, Illinois, is stricken with ovarian cancer. Lacewood happens to be the headquarters of Clare's North American Agricultural Products Division, and lo and behold, it seems that chemical wastes from the plant may be the source of Laura Bodey's illness. The analogy between corporate and cancerous proliferation is pointed--too pointed, perhaps. But no other recent novelist has written so knowingly, and with such splendid indignation, about capitalism and its discontents.

From the Publisher:

"Erudite, penetrating and splendidly written...There is no gainsaying the remarkable artistry and authority with which Powers, in this dazzling book, continues to impart his singular vision of our life and times." --Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review

"Powers is a writer of blistering intellect; he has only to think about a subject and the paint curls off. He is a novelist of ideas and a novelist of witness, and in both respects he has few American peers." --Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Richard Powers' powerful and peculiar novel, Gain, is the largest compliment any author has paid to the American reading public in decades." --Thomas M. Disch, Washington Post Book World

"Gain consists equally of horizon-busting breadth of knowledge and excruciating depth of vulnerability...Powers hovers impossibly between extremes with a tightrope walker's perfect balance. He may be at once the smartest and the most warm-hearted novelist in America today." --Melvin Jules Bukiet, The Chicago Tribune

"Richard Powers has proven himself a visionary writer...Throughout Gain there are dreamy, uncannily accurate little paragraphs on the Promethean messianism of corporate America." --Greil Marcus, The San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

"Subtle, provocative, and powerful...Richard Powers' deceptively simple and terrifyingly effective novel Gain says it better than anyone has in a long time: buyer beware." --Rick Moody, Voice Literary Supplement

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Richard Powers
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