Martin's Must Reads: 'The Overstory'

Dec 29, 2020

“A  woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. It’s bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. It’s needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are some opening lines from Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, a sweeping novel about nine people and their relationships to trees and their survival.

There’s Nicholas Hoel whose grandfather planted a chestnut tree in the middle of his farm and started a three generation tradition of photographing it each month. There’s Douglas Pavlicek, a decorated soldier who makes it his mission to plant trees in the fashion of Johnny Appleseed. There’s Patricia Westerford, a tree scientist who discovers that trees communicate with each other and writes a treatise that changes how many think about trees.

Five of them meet at an organized save-the-trees sit-in and spend time trying to make a difference for the trees. Two of them live in the uppermost branches of an old majestic tree for a year in an attempt to save it. One is a video game creator confined to a wheelchair who creates worlds for gamers to explore.

Powers introduces all the characters in his Roots chapter and then follows their lives through Trunk, Crown and Seeds chapters. How he intertwines the lives of the characters and teaches us about trees makes for a very compelling story. This book takes some time to read, but it is well worth it.

If you love trees and are interested in reading the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, then you must read The Overstory by Richard Powers.