What a title. What an author. Eight of Richard Powers’ nine novels now reside on our coffee table, each waiting to be chosen by Dan or me for reading next. Dan has already read half the titles; Powers is that good. A MacArthur fellow, he teaches at the University of Illinois.
Enrolled as a physics major in 1975, Powers turned to literature because “the sciences demanded, even encouraged, an intolerable specialization.”
Dan keeps raving about his books that balance story and neuroscience, and I’ve flipped through the pages of a few titles. Last week I opened “Generosity: An Enchantment,” and saw psychologist and “An Unquiet Mind” author Kay Redfield Jamison’s quote from “Exuberance.” I couldn’t resist.
“Exuberance carries us places we would not otherwise go — across the savannah, to the moon, into the imagination — and if we ourselves are not so exuberant we will, caught up by the contagious joy of those who are, be inclined collectively to go yonder.”
Exuberance. Moods. Is happiness genetic? Powers explores these questions in “Generosity.” How can an Algerian refugee who’s known tragedy in her life be so joyful? Is her happiness real?
The book’s protagonist, Russel Stone, is a writing teacher enamored of his student, the Algerian/Canadian Thassa Amzwar. She catapults into the news because of a near rape, which doesn’t come close to breaking her. Having escaped from a country that experienced a ten-year bloodbath, “Thassa has emerged from that land glowing like a blissed-out mystic.”
I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Plus, I still don’t understand it all so I’d like to discuss with other readers. Maybe I’ll suggest “Generosity,” which won the National Book Award (as did Powers’ “The Echo Maker”), to my book group.
“Generosity” may be a newly important book in my life. Added to the intrigue is Stone’s early writing career set in Tucson, and the geneticist character Thomas Kurton’s “smart house” that he retreats to in Maine. Uncanny, don’t you think?
It’s always so exciting to discover a new author who resonates. Hello Richard Powers.