This prize-drenched novelist isn’t for everyone, because, by his own admission in an interview with Alec Michod, he finds no distinction between novels focused on “thinking” versus those geared toward “feeling”:
We’re all driven by hosts of urges, some chaotic and Dionysian, some formal and Apollonian. The need for knowledge is as passionate as any other human obsession. And the wildest of obsessions has its hidden structure.
Most novels neither reveal hidden structure nor synthesize philosophy with plot. And often, readers associate the Apollonian world of music and hard science with nonfiction, and the Dionysian one with levity, drama, and passion. For this reason, the average reader generally gravitates toward literary novels or the more plot-driven, accessible alternatives.
Obviously, we all get to read whatever we want, and many readers, and thus many writers, lack the patience for forays into abstractions like neuroscience, genetics, or music theory. If you’re up for that, though, the rewards of any novel by Richard Powers are enormous. What might you discover as reader, writer, and human being?
Powers, a former programmer, now composer, author, and teacher with boundless curiosity and humanity, says that
The brain is the ultimate storytelling machine, and consciousness is the ultimate story.
Let’s examine that. According to Lisa Cron in Wired for Story:The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence:
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.
Both Cron and Powers suggest that if if we’re going to label ourselves at all, we’re not rational creatures who convince with facts but folks inspired, driven, and completed by drama. In other words, the stories we tell make us who we are.
And who is that? How constricted or broad? Powers continues with
shared stories are the only way anyone has for escaping the straightjacket of self…We read to escape ourselves and become someone else, at least for a little while. Fiction is one long, sensuous derangement of familiarity through altered point of view…Fiction plays on that overlap between self-composure and total, alien bewilderment, and it navigates by estrangement. (Alec Michod interview)
Whether or not you ever read a novel by Powers (and the next blog will encouarage you to try), consider your opportunities and responsibilities as a storyteller. You might want to view fiction a little differently.
~ Fiction performs its work by making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
~ Fiction provides an opportunity to be less and more than oneself.
~ Fiction integrates the wildness of Dionysus with the reserve of Apollo.
~ Fiction convinces by synthesizing character and morality, action and idea.
~ Fiction introduces the grand possibility of uniting rather than dividing science and art.
Tip: Why limit the parameters of fiction? They can be as broad as you want to make them.