Bewilderment: A Novel
by Richard Powers
Paperback- $13.99

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  "Can our world be saved?" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 09/26/21

Bewilderment, Richard Powers, author; Edoardo Ballerini, narrator The novel is about the Byrne family, Alyssa, Theodore and Robin. Alyssa is quite intense. She is an environmental activist. Theodore is an astrobiologist. Robin, their son, is an exceptional child. He questions everything and is a deep thinker, often making astute judgments. At nine, he has already decided to be a vegan. He is very concerned about the environment and animals, like his mother. Robin, however, is also a troubled child. He has difficulty controlling his feelings. He has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, with obsessive traits, and there are hints that there may be other types of mental illness in the family as one mother supposedly had multiple personalities. When Alyssa and Theodore were contacted by her friend, a Dr. Currier, who is conducting a study of the brain, she and Theodore agree to participate. They had no idea that this study would ultimately change their lives. Raising Robin, after Alyssa’s sudden death in an accident, was very difficult for Theo. Robin had been very close to his mother. Although he used certain techniques to avoid his mood swings and meltdowns, they were sometimes unavoidable. Robin had no filter and often said and did awkward things. Because of his lack of social skills, and because he was small, he was the target of bullies at school. Also, he only liked certain subjects. As a result, he does not really like school. Doctors and the school wanted to have him medicated, but the Byrnes had always refused. Instead, they had actively parented him and guided him, teaching him how to deal with his emotions, as they gave him needed skills to manage his moods. Theo struggled to raise Robin. He used fantasy to distract him and told him about imaginary planets which they imagined they explored or inhabited. When Dr. Currier suddenly contacted Theo again to ask if he could conduct a brain study on Robin, to see if they could help him by retraining his brain, Theo reluctantly agreed. After a few MRI treatments that examined his reactions, he actually showed improvement. Collier then asked Theo if he could try to sync Robin’s brain with Alyssa’s, during a particular period of the study when she was ecstatic. Theo, consulted Robin, and once again, he agreed. Often, Theo appeared to be the child, and Robbie, showing extraordinary judgment, made the adult decisions. With the new therapy, Robin further improved. He seemed able to commune with Alyssa, and the other spirits he said were in his head. He believed they were guiding him. He was happier and did better in school. At age 9, Robin became a real animal activist. He wanted to raise money for endangered species but was horrified when he learned that all of the money did not go to the cause! When the brain study and the treatments were suddenly discontinued because of politics and funding, things went downhill for Robin, very quickly, and he began to withdraw and lose interest in everything. Once again, he had meltdowns that were sometimes violent, especially when animals suffered in any way or when his questions were not answered the way he wanted them to be. Without the therapy, he was failing. He was helpless to stop his downward progression and he was aware of it. Finally, to try and help Robin, Theo decided to take him on another trip to the place he had honeymooned with Alyssa. The first trip had been a positive experience, so he decided that they would go there to have a real scavenger hunt to search for things in nature. That appealed to the environmentalist in Robin, and he seemed to show some interest. Theo hoped that he could rebuild Robin’s confidence, calm him down, and fortify his mental state. However, when Robin witnessed the destruction of the environment there, he became very upset. He wanted to start cleaning it up immediately, without regard for the freezing temperatures. This forced Theo to face his worst nightmare. Using the experiences of this family, Powers seemed inclined to shine a light on all of earth’s problems, the unrest and riots, the corrupt elections and authoritarian Presidents, rules that limited speech, climate change that caused floods and storms, civil disobedience and assaults on the government, waning national security, deteriorating international relationships, and more importantly, the immediate need to make environmental changes to save the country and its people. He illustrated the corruption of government officials as they made foolish decisions to benefit political causes, rather than humanity’s causes, canceling vital projects, ultimately causing harm to the country. He illustrated the greed and selfishness that prevented the politicians and the citizens from doing what was right as they feathered their own nests. He pointed out the inability of our school systems and social services to handle children with disabilities. He pointed out the failures of education and the benefits of home schooling. He showed the consequences of political decisions that tragically caused shortages and disease to loom on the horizon. The book focused on our behavior as we caused the destruction of our world. Would it or could it be reversed? He even demonstrated the corruption of the police and the media, intent on headlines without regard for the consequences of their actions. At times, it seemed that the author leaned left, and his assumptions, sometimes colored by his personal politics, appeared to be blind to those who were really bringing the country to the edge of the abyss, as he often seemed to be accusing, symbolically and subtly, the wrong side of being the enemy he described. The offenses were often carried out by the left, but they were attributed to the right, or vice versa. Occasionally, the flashbacks were confusing. However, the novel was creative and the science seemed well researched. The overriding political themes were sometimes distracting. The story is a fantasy which required the reader to suspend disbelief, but some of the people and situations resembled well known people and real events. The author raised the most important issues facing society, issues that were and continue to be very real, although he used imaginary details. Positively, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the superb narrator who managed to give each character a distinct voice. The child and the world were both troubled. Would either be helped by the messages of this book?

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 10/27/21

 
  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 11/01/21

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