orfeo

David Worsley
CO-OWNER, WORDS WORTH BOOKS

Orfeo: A Novel
Richard Powers (2014)
W.W. Norton & Company

The New Year is all about resolutions, and one of the more noble undertakings is the pledge to read more.

One would do well to start with the new novel from National Book award-winning novelist Richard Powers, Orfeo.

The book starts with a tale taken from life – a suburban chemistry enthusiast falsely arrested on domestic terrorism suspicion, but, as with most of Powers’ work, there are multiple layers that unfold.

Peter Els is a divorced professor messing around in a homemade lab, essentially trying to merge his very advanced understanding of music through chemistry. As the feds come after him, Els flees westward and Powers marries a back story with Els’ journey through his past.

Els’ journey as a young musician and theorist soaked in the music of Gustav Mahler, John Cage and other avant garde artists is riveting and vivid, and perhaps most importantly, accessible to readers with only a rudimentary knowledge of the subject.

Powers riffs on technology, the place of classics and study in the modern world, and I was quite content to follow wherever he went.

This is smart, risky storytelling with a big heart and a lot of propulsion.