Richard Powers does not need the accolades plastered on the beautifully designed cover of his novel, Bewilderment, published by Hutchinson Heinemann in 2021.
It is an astonishingly wonderful read that takes us through what could be a bewildering array of journeys with the easy guidance of a master storyteller, who keeps the reader on track throughout by sticking to short and manageable routes.
We explore unbelievable worlds on planets way beyond our ken; relationships that are deep and entwining; the long-term effects of both politics and the economy on the environment; as well as shortcomings of conventional education:
The father and son regularly fall foul of education rules and battle with the idea of Robin being home-schooled as a possible solution. He [Robin] was calm as a skiff on a windless pond. I was capsizing. I wanted to shout, Give me one good reason why you can’t sit in a classroom like every other child your age. But I already knew several.
As the narrative unfolds, we explore the short-sightedness of some laws; the ethical boundaries pushed by scientists ever eager to find out more and to gain funding for their projects; as well as the intrusion of media in its many forms in a bid to satisfy the ‘hunger’ of the public mass for the unusual and interesting events of life – no matter how short-lived or what impact this might have on the individuals concerned:
There was a planet that couldn’t figure out where everyone was. It died of loneliness.
Throughout this bewildering array of paths, is the love of a father for his unusual son which supports his determination to do his best for him whilst trying to protect him from the worst this planet has to offer:
I never believed the diagnoses the doctors settled on my son. When a condition gets three different names over as many decades, when it requires two subcategories to account for completely contradictory symptoms, when it goes from non-existent to the country’s most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder in the course of one generation, when two different physicians want to prescribe three different medications, there’s something wrong.
I highly recommend this novel that will open your mind to all sorts of possibilities and leave you pondering deeply over the way it ends.