Gain: A Novel First Edition, Kindle Edition
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- Length: 418 pages
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
- Page Flip: Enabled
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"Powers is a writer of blistering intellect."--Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[Gain] is erudite, penetrating and splendidly written."--Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review
"Richard Powers has proven himself a visionary writer."--Greil Marcus, The San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
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 alternate kindle_edition edition.
- File Size : 853 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 418 pages
- Publication Date : March 15, 2010
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B003H4I486
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition (March 15, 2010)
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #671,279 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The one thing about this book, is that some of the pages were in wrong. So just be aware.
First, I think it is difficult to write fiction about an inanimate entity such as a corporation. It makes it hard to grip the reader because while people come and go through the corporation, they are secondary to the main star which is the company itself. In the first part of the book, it was different, because then the 3 sons more or less equalled the corporation so the book was about people at that point. But even by the time of Peter and Douglas Clare, Jr., and certainly beyond that, the people passing through Clare became less and less important (and the book became less interesting). Of course, to a large extent, the book is a kind of generic account of any "mega-co-USA" got that way from humble 19th century origins, and the ups and downs they all have to endure. But for that, why not just look at a real company?
Second, because of the complete lack of any twists or turns in the plot, its predicability left me bored. The author more or less tells you where he's going within the few few pages of the book and then inexorably moves there without any deviation whatsoever.
Third, while I appreciate the author's efforts to add detail (and thus presumably authenticity) regarding (1) the soap and candle-making process and (2) the nature of cancer from a purely medical perspective, I found that he went into SUCH exhaustive detail that my eyes would just glaze over when he became Richard Powers, MD, or Richard Powers, Ph.D. in Chemistry.
Finally, if the book was intended to be some sort of indictment of corporate conglomerates in the 20th century, I was unconvinced. Is the author saying that the DuPont's of the world are inherently bad or should not exist? That Clare should never have progressed beyond the stage when the 3 sons ran it? That Clare should have ceased all technological progress? What is his point? (Or, if he has a point, what is his solution?)
After I finished reading the book, I bought a copy for a friend, something I don't do very often. I also ordered another book by the author. I have a feeling that having discovered Mr. Powers, I am about to become a groupie of his.
Top reviews from other countries
True to form in Gain, Powers has two stories running parallel throughout the novel. One narrative tells the story of the Clare family and their development of a soap making and eventually chemical business. This story is a hugely ambitious endeavour as it not only tells us the story of Clare corporation but more importantly it is a history of business development in the USA and as a by-product other significant historical events are touched on, such as the American civil war, in a typical Powers oblique manner. The second narrative tells the story of Laura Bodey and her family. Both stories are set in a town called Lacewood and it is the fact that Laura resides in Lacewood where the by-products of Clare corporation is assumed to have polluted the atmosphere from which we are led to believe Laura contracted cancer. Although they eventually overlap, the time span of the two stories are different. The story of the Clare family and corporation spans about 150 years, while that of Laura overlaps with the last 40-50 years of the Clare story.
Meanwhile, as both narratives progress, Powers interrupts them with short blurbs announcements in the form of advertisements, propaganda and Clare corporation promotions. It could be said that these announcements functions as a relief from the two main narratives but equally they do something more important by bringing into focus some of the cultural issues that drove capitalism and helps it to renew itself. Given that Laura contracts cancer and a group lawsuit is brought against the Clare corporation it is rather ironic when on reads an advertisement that runs: "Native Balm is a consummate, and unequalled, fully warranted article for washing and cleaning, and overall promotion of the body's health."
These different layers of narrative and multi-story telling renders Gain a novel rich in diverse themes. On one level if the novel is not a full analysis of capitalism it nonetheless certainly provides a very good excursion around it operation. On another level it is about some brave pioneers who came, saw and conquered the USA. It is also about adventure both metaphorically and literally - metaphorically about the superiority of one race of people over another in the sense that Clare and their likes venture out to create new inventions in their newly conquered world at the expense of the native Indians. The flip side of that, on a literal level, is that the youngest of the first generation Clare brothers keeps the spirit of adventure alive by undertaking an expedition. The expedition's chief purpose was to: "compile a reliable cartographic description of an area whose riches had previously been sealed in ignorance." But the real motive in undertaking the expedition is not the mere mapping a territory but to explore new opportunity for development.
Powers comes close to moralizing by suggesting that the downside of development is the unintentional harm that it might cause. This is manifested through Laura's suffering as a result of contracting cancer. Laura's experience of cancer is well observed by Powers, every minute detail is outlined. He reveals the ups and downs of Laura's experience as she goes through examination, scans and treatment. The family's concerns and tensions are well brought out. However, a major weakness for me is that given the nature of the issue, Powers handling of it was too cold and clinical. Laura's story lacked emotional gravity.
It is debatable as to whether or not Powers offers a critique of the rise of capitalism. If he does it is certainly subtle and to do so he draws on that old literary device known as irony. Here is an example: "Human progress had already taken a considerable toll. The very gas lamps that lifted the pall of night also issued a rising tide of coal tar treacle that threatened to drown the nation in advancement's sewage." But Powers critique whether subtle or not is not mere propaganda. His is a balanced approach where he recognizes both the downside and benefit of research and production in a capitalist system. The Clare youngest brother, Ben, dreams of: "a land purged of disease. He ceaselessly applied his intellect to locating the remedies for a wounded world."
Gain also serves to remind us of the economic cycle of boom and bust. Powers does this not in economic jargon but with down right plain honest language: "In three massive contractions, the labour force shrank from five hundred to little more than three hundred. Plant salaries fell from twelve dollars a week to nine, and then eight. Those who held on to their jobs felt lucky to have them and at any price." As I write that is exact economic situation we are facing.
In terms of the pose in Gain, at times the sentences are so dense, rich in metaphor that they quite simply command a slowing down and a second take of the reading. By way of an example Powers write: "The full moon shines above her empty house. Tonight's blaze is so bright it almost tricks her nasturtiums in syncopating their circadian rhythms."
As I read this novel, I had mixed feelings about it. In comparison with some of his other works, Powers was not writing at his peak. Nonetheless, in some passages such as the episode that outlines Resolve's wife Julia's political and other ambitions one gets a glimpse of what makes Powers a great writer.