The Overstory
The Overstory
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The Overstory
The Overstory is a novel by Richard Powers published in 2018 by W.W. Norton. It is Powers's twelfth novel. The novel is about nine Americans whose unique

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The Overstory is a novel by Richard Powers published in 2018 by W.W. Norton. It is Powers's twelfth novel. The novel is about nine Americans whose unique life experiences with trees bring them together to address the destruction of forests. Powers was inspired to write the work while teaching at Stanford University after he encountered giant redwood trees for the first time.[1] On September 20 2018, The Overstory was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.[2]

On 15 April 2019, it was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Characters
  • 3 Criticism
  • 4 Awards
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 References

Nicholas Hoel, Mimi Ma, Adam Appich, Ray Brinkman, Dorothy Cazaly, Douglas Pavlicek, Neelay Mehta, Patricia Westerford and Olivia Vandergriff are people who had unique relationships with trees which occasionally led to tragedy or salvation.

In 1989, while Olivia Vandergriff is at university she gets high and is accidentally electrocuted, briefly dying. After she revives she comes to believe that higher powers are trying to give her a message. After seeing a news story on a group of activists trying to protect the remaining 3% of giant redwood trees she decides that her purpose is to go there and join them. On her way there she meets Nicholas Hoel, now thirty-five and at a loss of what to do with his life as the life insurance money he lived on is gone, he has sold the Hoel farm, the Hoel tree is dying and his art is a commercial failure. After talking to Olivia he decides to join her in her mission.

At the same time, in Portland, Mimi Ma, the daughter of a Chinese engineer who committed suicide, is rising up the corporate ladder when she sees a small group of trees by her building are scheduled to be destroyed by the city. She contemplates joining a city council meeting to block their removal but before she can the city cuts down the trees in the night. Douglas Pavlicek, a veteran who has spent 5 years of his life replanting trees for major companies only to become disillusioned when he discovers his work is useless, happens to be walking by the trees and sees them being cut down. He tries to prevent their destruction and is instead arrested. When he returns to the trees he is confronted by Mimi Ma who quickly realizes he is not a city employee but an environmentalist. The two band together to start joining in protests against environmental destruction.

Nick and Olivia join a group of nonviolent radicals and give themselves "tree" names, Nick becoming Watchman and Olivia being Maidenhair. When they are asked to squat in a giant redwood called Mimas for two weeks, Olivia leaps at the chance. Their stay ends up lasting for more than a year, during which they watch as the forest around them is decimated. They are eventually joined by Adam Appich, who is doing a thesis study on environmentalists. The night he is there Nick and Olivia are finally forced out of the tree and arrested so their tree can be cut down. Nick and Olivia decide to do more work in Oregon.

Mimi Ma and Douglas continue going to protests where they are brutalized by the police and arrested. Mimi is eventually fired from her job and, like Douglas, becomes a full time activist.

Changed by his time with Olivia and Nick, Adam goes to Oregon to rejoin them, and meets Mimi Ma, now going by the name Mulberry, and Douglas, going by Doug-fir, now part of the same activist camp. He stays with them a month and they believe that they are finally achieving something until their camp is destroyed by the mining authorities. In the altercation Mimi and Douglas are both badly injured. In retaliation the group sets fire to logging equipment. Pleased by the results they set two more fires intending the third to be their final act. During the arson Olivia is injured and dies and the four remaining activists burn her body and scatter. The fire is deemed the work of a crazed killer and the logging continues.

Mimi Ma sells a priceless heirloom her father passed down which ensures that she can reinvent herself. Nick becomes a vagrant, Douglas a forest ranger, and Adam returns to academia.

Douglas is still haunted by what happened and writes down everything in his journal using everyone's forest names. Nevertheless his journal is discovered and the FBI arrests him. In order to protect Mimi Ma he decides to give up one name and goes to New York City where he encounters Adam and reminisces about the fire with him. Adam is arrested and sentenced to 140 years in prison which strikes him as a small price to pay as it is barely any time in tree life.

Mimi Ma, who is now living and working as an unconventional unlicensed therapist of sorts hears about the arrests and realizes that Douglas turned Adam in to protect her.

Living in the forest Nick hears nothing but creates a giant project out of branches and dead logs that can be read above space. He is helped in this project by a Native American man who happens to be passing by, and later some of his family. The message reads "Still" and will be legible from space for two hundred years before it is absorbed into the forest.

  • Nicholas Hoel - an artist of Norwegian and Irish descent who comes from a long line of farmers and whose great-great-great grandfather planted a chestnut tree that survived blight and that enthralled the Hoel family for generations.
  • Mimi Ma - the eldest daughter of Winston Ma, born Ma Sih Hsuin, who fled China and became an engineer in America. Mimi falls in love with the Mulberry bush he plants in their backyard and is deeply affected when he eventually commits suicide.
  • Adam Appich - an inquisitive boy who is fascinated with insects and later becomes interested in human psychology and how humans can only understand things that are put into narratives. His father planted a tree before the birth of Adam and each of his four siblings; as a child, Adam conflated the characteristics of each tree with his siblings.
  • Ray Brinkman - a conventional property lawyer and Dorothy's husband who later in life falls in love with nature.
  • Dorothy Cazaly - an unconventional stenographer who falls in love with nature late in life.
  • Douglas Pavlicek - an orphan who enlists in the Stanford prison experiment before enlisting in the army. After being discharged he wanders across America, realizing as he does so that deforestation is ruining the country. He signs up to plant seedlings, only learning after the planting of his fifty thousandth seedling that this effort does nothing to help the trees and only contributes to their destruction at the hands of logging companies.
  • Neelay Mehta - the child of Indian immigrants, Neelay spends his life building computers and creating computer programs in Northern California. Despite being paralyzed when he falls out of a tree as a child, he goes on to become a computer programming marvel, eventually creating a series of video games called Mastery inspired by trees, deforestation and colonization.
  • Patricia Westerford - a dendrologist with a hearing disability, Patricia spends most of her childhood and adulthood enthralled with trees. When she accidentally discovers that trees are capable of communicating with each other, her research is widely mocked leading her to contemplate suicide. She eventually finds work as a park ranger where, years later, she discovers that her work has been redeemed and expanded upon.
  • Olivia Vandergriff - a young woman in her early 20s who lives an impulsive and reckless life until dedicatong her life to protesting deforestation. She dies in an explosion as the group attempts to destroy logging machinery.

The Atlantic called the novel "darkly optimistic" for taking the long view that humanity was doomed while trees are not.[3] The Guardian was mixed on the novel claiming that Powers mostly succeeded in conjuring "narrative momentum out of thin air, again and again."[4] Library Journal calls the book "a deep meditation on the irreparable psychic damage that manifests in our unmitigated separation from nature".[5]

  • 2018 Man Booker Prize shortlist[2]
  • 2018 Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine winner[6]
  • 2019 2019 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalist[7]
Further reading
  • Richard Powers and nature writing Open Book, Alex Clark interviews Richard Powers, 0:00-12 min, BBC Radio 4 podcast, 28 August 2018, accessed 2 September 2018.
  1. ^ John, Emma. "Richard Powers: 'We're completely alienated from everything else alive'". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b Jordan, Justine. "New voices, but less global: the Man Booker longlist overturns expectations". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  3. ^ NATHANIEL, RICH. "The Novel That Asks, 'What Went Wrong With Mankind?'". Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  4. ^ Markovits, Benjamin. "The Overstory by Richard Powers review – the wisdom of trees".
  5. ^ Finnell, Joshua. "The Overstory ." Library Journal 143, no. 2 (February 2018): 96. Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed August 21, 2018).
  6. ^ Nicolas Turcev (November 12, 2018). "Richard Powers lauréat du Grand prix de littérature américaine 2018". Libres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  7. ^ "Announcing the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists". PEN America. January 15, 2019. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  • v
  • t
  • e
Novels by Richard Powers
  • Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985)
  • Prisoner's Dilemma (1988)
  • The Gold Bug Variations (1991)
  • Operation Wandering Soul (1993)
  • Galatea 2.2 (1995)
  • Gain (1998)
  • Plowing the Dark (2000)
  • The Time of Our Singing (2003)
  • The Echo Maker (2006)
  • Generosity: An Enhancement (2009)
  • Orfeo (2014)
  • The Overstory (2018)
  • v
  • t
  • e
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction1918–1925
  • His Family by Ernest Poole (1918)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (1919)
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1921)
  • Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington (1922)
  • One of Ours by Willa Cather (1923)
  • The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson (1924)
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (1925)
  • Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (declined) (1926)
  • Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield (1927)
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1928)
  • Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin (1929)
  • Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge (1930)
  • Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes (1931)
  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1932)
  • The Store by Thomas Sigismund Stribling (1933)
  • Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Pafford Miller (1934)
  • Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson (1935)
  • Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis (1936)
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1937)
  • The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand (1938)
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1939)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1940)
  • In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow (1942)
  • Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair (1943)
  • Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin (1944)
  • A Bell for Adano by John Hersey (1945)
  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (1947)
  • Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener (1948)
  • Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens (1949)
  • The Way West by A. B. Guthrie Jr. (1950)
  • The Town by Conrad Richter (1951)
  • The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1952)
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1953)
  • A Fable by William Faulkner (1955)
  • Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor (1956)
  • A Death in the Family by James Agee (1958)
  • The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor (1959)
  • Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (1960)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961)
  • The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor (1962)
  • The Reivers by William Faulkner (1963)
  • The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau (1965)
  • The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter (1966)
  • The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (1967)
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron (1968)
  • House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (1969)
  • The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford (1970)
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1972)
  • The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (1973)
  • No award given (1974)
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975)
  • Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (1976)
  • No award given (1977)
  • Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson (1978)
  • The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (1979)
  • The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (1980)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1981)
  • Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike (1982)
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1983)
  • Ironweed by William Kennedy (1984)
  • Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie (1985)
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1986)
  • A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (1987)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1988)
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1989)
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (1990)
  • Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (1991)
  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1992)
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler (1993)
  • The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (1994)
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1995)
  • Independence Day by Richard Ford (1996)
  • Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser (1997)
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth (1998)
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1999)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2001)
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2002)
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2003)
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2004)
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2005)
  • March by Geraldine Brooks (2006)
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2007)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2008)
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2009)
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding (2010)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011)
  • No award given (2012)
  • The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (2013)
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2014)
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2015)
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2017)
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer (2018)
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers (2019)



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