From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Overstory. The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. His son grows troubled, but Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin's emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother's brain.
The tenderness and delicacy with which the father-son relationship is depicted repeatedly brought to my mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, though it is a pre-apocalyptic planet on which Theo and Robin struggle to find fortitude and hope ... Among the novel’s many virtues is the mood it radiates of sheer cosmic awe ... Powers is coming to seem a gift to those of us who admire Stapledon’s genre but regret its indifference to human complexities. Impressively precise in its scientific conjectures, Bewilderment is no less rich or wise in its emotionality. Moreover, science fiction is not just a looming generic presence, but part of the novel’s narrative mechanism ... channels both the cosmic sublime and that of the vast American outdoors, resting confidently in a lineage with Thoreau and Whitman, Dillard and Kerouac. It’s also a ghostly and affecting love story ... Sorrowing awe is Bewilderment’s primary tone, and its many remarkable scenes are controlled with high novelistic intelligence. Robin is as compelling a fictional creation as I’ve encountered in some time – fierce, lovable and otherworldly. In dreaming him up, Powers was clearly working out a bold fictive question: what must it be like to father a Greta Thunberg?
If you can’t handle watching terrible things happen to a sweet, misunderstood kid, this book may be hard for you to take. Just remember, this may feel like the real world, but it’s not. In the imagination of the book, the dead can live again as re-mapped memories. The flawed world can be redeemed, at least until the grant money runs out ... Powers finds magic in the commonplace ... a pastoral elegy for a planet that is already doomed. Look around and take it in with everything you have.
The story unfolds with an inevitability that is either pleasing or dismaying, depending on your feelings about plot ... Bewilderment feels, in certain respects, too familiar and tidy. Once the stakes are clear, the plot is obvious, and its mechanisms will be recognizable, along with the book’s themes, to readers of earlier Powers novels ... Characterization is not Powers’s forte ... But if Theo’s other relationships remain one-dimensional, the connection between father and son has greater density and texture, as does Robin’s urgent and unbridled passion for the natural world. Unabashedly issue-driven, Bewilderment may neither challenge nor surprise, but admirers of Powers’s ability to fold near-futuristic scientific facts into a meticulously constructed plot will nonetheless find satisfaction.