Bits and bobs from The Overstory, by Richard Powers:
“You’re a psychologist,” Mimi says to the recruit. “How do we convince people that we’re right?”
The newest Cascadian takes the bait. “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”
. . . which reminds me of e. e. cummings:
told him:i told
him;we told him
(he didn’t believe it,no
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth
el;in the top of his head:to tell
Another debatable claim—
The world is failing precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.
—seems increasingly dubious as this long, sprawling novel continues. Powers moves us most when showing us how much we have been missing in our understanding of nature—
“We scientists are taught never to look for ourselves in other species. So we make sure nothing looks like us! Until a short while ago, we didn’t even let chimpanzees have consciousness, let alone dogs or dolphins. Only man, you see: only man could know enough to want things. But believe me: trees want something from us, just as we’ve always wanted things from them. This isn’t mystical. The ‘environment’ is alive—a fluid, changing web of purposeful lives dependent on each other. . . . Flowers shape bees as much as bees shape flowers. Berries may compete to be eaten more than animals compete to eat them. A thorn acacia makes sugary protein treats to feed and enslave the ants who guard it. Fruit-bearing plants trick us into distributing their seeds, and ripening fruit led to color vision. In teaching us how to find their bait, trees taught us to see that the sky is blue. Our brains evolved to solve the forest. We’ve shaped and been shaped by forests for longer than we’ve been Homo sapiens.”
—and by the end it is this overwhelming vision that sticks. The human dramas, which may have initially drawn us in to the story, have lost their power. We want to go into the woods, sit at the base of a tree, and just listen.