Richard Powers, Gain

A second reading. I still insist that this book is underrated, maligned by critics who love the technology stuff but can’t deal with the personal.

3 thoughts on “Richard Powers, Gain

  1. I read Gain a few months ago and I thought it was really good for the personal, novelly stuff, and very interesting for the historical stuff, and kind of duh with respect to the commentary on capitalism and the modern condition or whatever. Overall I liked it a lot, though, a ton more than I liked all of his other non-Galatea books.

  2. Does that include The Time of Our Singing? I think that’s far and away my favorite of them — I’m a sucker for a big novel with a historical sweep. Which is part of what I loved about Gain, too — the corporate history is really quite well-done, particularly in demonstrating how a little mom-n-pop shop could find itself a corporate behemoth a century later. But the bulk of my affection for Gain remains the juxtaposition of that disinterested history with the excruciatingly personal story of Laura Bodey’s death. The book’s reviews are fascinating — nearly everybody was embarrassed by the personal stuff. Updike referred to the novel as “sitcomish”; Tom LeClair compared it to a “soap opera”; A.O. Scott said it was a “made-for-TV movie.” Isn’t it interesting that the story of a woman’s dying is thought of as fodder for television?

  3. I haven’t read The Time of Our Singing yet, but it sounds like I should.

    As for the corporate history in Gain: well, I enjoyed it, but it struck me as extremely oversimplified. By necessity, no doubt, but I always get uncomfortable with those bird’s-eye-view, skipping-decades-at-a-time narratives, and I was put off by sentences like “and then it was time for a public stock offering.” Maybe I’m just a big nerd, but I wanted to know the individual steps that the growth of a business comprises. That said, though, I agree that it’s well put together, and it really is a reminder that the huge corporations we think of as faceless and bureaucratic used to be small personal businesses.

    And there’s something about the contrast between the century-plus corporate story and the short months of the protagonist’s life/death we get to see. A good novel makes you contemplate something beyond its nominal subject, and I think Gain does that very well.

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