Gain

Powers, Richard

Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (T), 1998
ISBN 10: 0374159963 / ISBN 13: 9780374159962
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Author's bookplate with signature, affixed to the half-title page, a fine copy. Jacket is fine and BroDart protected. First edition / first printing. Ships in bubble wrap in box. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: Richard Powers' novel is a fascinating and profound exploration of the interaction of an individual human life and a corporate one. It tells two stories: the first that of an American company, which starts as a small family soap and candle-making firm in the early 1800s, and ends as a vast pharmaceuticals-to-pesticides combine in the 1990s. The second is that of a contemporary woman, living in the company town, who during the course of the novel is diagnosed and then finally dies of cancer, a cancer that is almost certainly caused by exposure to chemical wastes from the company's factories. Richly intellectually stimulating, deeply moving and beautifully written, Gain is very much a 'Great American Novel', an exploration of the history, uniqueness and soul of America, in the tradition of Underworld. But it is most reminiscent of Graham Swift's Waterland, another novel that combines history, both public and private, with contemporary lives, showing how individuals are both the victims and shapers of large-scale historical and economic forces

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.

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Gain
Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T)
Publication Date: 1998
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: 1st Edition

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Richard Powers
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