In ‘Panic’, Richard Powers fills nature with purity

The central question of the novel is the same as that posed in “The Overstory” by Dougie Pavliek, a Vietnam War vet turned eco-warrior: “What [Expletive] What went wrong with mankind?”

The dialogue reminded me of my favorite novel of the third grade, Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”

Robbie speaks in italics, as if he were an oracle or, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Like a child in, imaginary. “Don’t worry, Dad. We probably won’t be able to figure it out. But Earth will,” he says. And: “Spring will keep coming back, no matter what happens. Okay Papa?” And: “New Planet, Dad. Please.” And: “There’s something wrong with us, Dad.”

Says Robin, M. Night Shyamalnishly: “Your wife loves you. you know that right?”

Theo tells him, “People, Robbie. They are a dubious species.” He thinks: “There was a planet that couldn’t figure out where everyone else was. It died of loneliness.” And: “Oh, this planet was a good one.”

To be fair to Powers, he has the potential to amplify the quirks of everyday global life—on paying a cabdriver, for example: “I feed my card into the cab’s reader and the credits in the melting tundra Inserted from a settled server farm. Northern Sweden in the virtual hands of Kaby.” But these moments are rare here.

There are some books that you would like to give to your best friend; This is to give to your distant aunt for her reading group. This is a James Taylor song for when you need a buzz-saw guitar. Despite the ostentatious science, how the human mind actually works has no indecisiveness, no intelligence, no fire and little fluttering understanding.

This is a book about ecological salvation that somehow makes you want to smack a beaver in the back of the head for no good reason.

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