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Gain Paperback – May 26, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (May 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312204094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312204099
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,677,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Richard Powers made his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, a brilliant and almost unbelievably brainy meditation on what he calls "our tortured century." Since then he has produced four more novels, showcasing his mastery of genetics, art history, computer science, theology, aesthetics, and a host of other pointy-headed fields. The author's range--and the meticulous music of his prose, which suggests a considerably less zany Thomas Pynchon--is mind-boggling. Yet his subject remains fairly constant: the acceleration, and consequent dehumanization, of contemporary life.

In Gain, Powers puts our modernity through the wringer once again. This time, though, he points the finger at one villain in particular: rampant, American-style capitalism, as exemplified by a conglomerate called Clare International. His novel, it should be said, is no piece of agitprop, but an intricate lamination of two separate stories. On one hand, Powers describes the rise (and fall and rise) of the Clare empire, beginning in its mercantile infancy: "That family flocked to commerce like finches to morning. They clung to the watery edge of existence: ports, always ports. They thrived in tidal pools, half salt, half sweet." The author's Clare-eyed narrative amounts to a pocket history of corporate America, and a marvelously entertaining one. Lest we get too enamored of this success story, though, Powers introduces a second, countervailing tale, in which a 42-year-old resident of Lacewood, Illinois, is stricken with ovarian cancer. Lacewood happens to be the headquarters of Clare's North American Agricultural Products Division, and lo and behold, it seems that chemical wastes from the plant may be the source of Laura Bodey's illness. The analogy between corporate and cancerous proliferation is pointed--too pointed, perhaps. But no other recent novelist has written so knowingly, and with such splendid indignation, about capitalism and its discontents. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A novelist who has always taken inspiration from scientific and historical research, most recently in the AI-centered Galatea 2.2, Powers now follows the lead of environmentally concerned writers Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody by returning to the great (newly literalized) myth behind Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables: that the tainted American soil will take revenge on us for the sins of our exploitative fathers. In Powers's ambitious but mechanical novel, the victim is Laura Bodey, a real estate agent and single mother whose Midwestern town of Lacewood is polluted with mysterious carcinogens produced by its biggest employer, the Clare Soap and Chemical corporation. Laura's battle with ovarian cancer takes up half the book, but the novel really belongs to Clare itself. Interspersing Laura's story with the company's history from 1820s Boston to the present, Powers touches lightly on myriad aspects of American life over the last 170 years: the millennialist religious revival of William Miller, the Civil War, the changing fashions of advertising (perhaps the novel's most entertaining subplot), the history of labor and management. Although they never mesh with Laura's present-day misadventures ("tragedy" is much too strong for such an academic book), the Clare chronicles play to Powers's strengths (literary pastiche, historical and scientific summary, witty description, a knack for idyll) and cover his weaknesses (clunky dialogue, flat characters, portentous commonplaces). The result is impressive and imaginative, albeit a little puzzling. Powers has given us the historical novel as survey course?a curiosity that we never knew we needed but that we can't keep from admiring.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Powers describes the triumph of capitalism in a most chilling way.
Richard Thurston
It's hard not to have compassion for the characters, but I felt there was always a barrier between them and the reader, and that they lacked development.
A. E. Balkan
If Mr. powers were a magician, he could conjure all that illusionists do.
taking a rest

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Serious American novelists are compelled to confront certain questions: what is right about America? What is wrong with us? A select company of writers are distinguished by their ability to recognize that the answers to these questions are virtually identical. I am thinking about Dreiser, Fitzgerald and, now, Richard Powers. In Gain, Powers tells two stories in one, one historical and one contemporary: the first tells of the seemingly irresistible rise of Clare, a multi-national corporation; and the second examines the life of a working mother afflicted with ovarian cancer -- a disease evidently caused by chemicals released by Clare's manufacturing processes. The book reads somewhat like a novelistic rendering of Hardy's poem "The Convergence of the Twain." Like the iceberg and liner in Hardy's work, heroine and corporation are on a collision course plotted by human vanity and outraged nature. As in the very best of classical tragedies, the action seems both sadly unnecessary and starkly inevitable. As the soap-selling business of the Clare brothers gathers momentum, one feels both the thrill of its financial triumph and the horror of the humam cost its growth exacts. In this novel, the conditions of American society enable characters to conceive great visions and to pursue them with courage and enthusiasm. At the end of the day, however, they cannot escape either their mortality or the prosaic, banal truth of their existence. Did so many brave, intelligent people labor and die just so that the heroine's teenage son can play video wargames in the comfort of a suburban bedroom? It is troubling, Powers suggests, that all our hopes and strivings should take us no further than this. Even-handedly, however, Powers shows us the benefits of industry as well as its dark side.Read more ›
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Manny on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was looking for something different when I picked up "Gain", something other than the shopworn "coming of age" literary novel I seem to keep reading over and over, and boy did I find it. Skeptical at first (I'm not a fan of either business or terminal illness books) "Gain" soon won me over with Powers solid writing (piled a little thick in places but overall a pleasure) and the interwoven tales of Clare Soap and the local woman who contracts ovarian cancer allegedly from its products or factory.
Powers provides an interesting thumbnail sketch of the rise of the corporation in America, one that is light yet informative and, for the most part, accurate. This part of the book is dry in places but given the subject matter, he has to be given credit for breathing as much life as possible into an inanimate object.
His treatment of Laura and her family was warm and resonating, however. Too much of her struggles probably would have been too much for me to handle but by breaking it up the way he did, he made her tragic tale somewhat easier to take than would otherwise have been the case.
Towards the end I started wondering how this was going to wrap up. I was anticipating the obvious: the big courtroom trial, verdict and either vindication or pathos but what Powers did instead was brilliant. I won't divulge it here but his ending brought both narratives together in a way that was completely unexpected.
I don't know what novel the people who criticized it for being leftist and "anti-corporation" were reading, but it certainly wasn't "Gain". Rather, I felt that Powers showed us all sides of the corporation-the good, the bad and the ugly, and left it to us to draw our own conclusions.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on September 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have not read all of the books that Mr. Powers has written. This is the fourth, and while the writing is not as complex, with each subsequent phrase attempting to make its predecessor seem inferior, he has created a book that begins with two stories widely separated in time and brings them together with final pages that are emotionally devastating.
The wealth of knowledge this Author is known for is again evident in "Gain". The difference this time is that he shows an understanding of the human condition, its pain and its suffering as though he experiences the trauma as he writes. He writes about an experience we all will face, and it reads as though it is documented fact, not some mystic farce substituted for weak writing that lacks the skill that Mr. Powers has. His writing does not read as opinion, it feels as though you are reading the truth, that you are being told by someone who knows, and not just an authority on the topic, an articulate dandified product of academe, an erudite poser.
A man and his wife arrive in Boston. Over a century later the son of another woman, working across the river in Cambridge, will take the money from a legal outcome that is a direct result of that first man's arrival, and likely set in motion events that are orders of magnitude more powerful. It could be argued that the moment the first man decided to emigrate, the countless number of steps, the cascade of effects were irrevocably put in motion.
This tale could be dressed up as a form of Chaos Theory, the Butterfly in China whose delicate movements cause the East Coast of the US to be flooded. Mr. Powers does not need a curtain that wrapped the city of the Oz Wizard to conceal what he was unable to do. If Mr.
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