The Story and the Overstory


I knew it was a matter of time before we would see a novel on the sentience of trees, especially since the publication two years ago of the German forester Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and the groundbreaking discoveries by Dr. Suzanne Simard and other scientists on tree behavior. Their findings show that trees communicate and share resources to help their offspring and neighbors and even pass on memories of trauma. There is still so much we don’t know about these majestic living creatures, but the possibilities are enough to pique one’s imagination.

Trees are whispering from the first pages of Richard Powers’s remarkable new novel, The Overstory (W.W. Norton & Co., April 2018). “Listen. There’s something you need to hear,” says a pine tree to a woman leaning against its trunk. Throughout the story, the voices of trees rise and join in “a chorus of living wood,” trying to share their secret wisdom and halt the human destruction of the forests before it is too late.

Not everyone can write about trees and make it a compelling story. Here, Powers embraces the content of his story so fully that it forms the structure of the book and sprouts up in everything from the characters to the plot’s minutiae. More here