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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

The Overstory is a Pulitzer winner about trees and activism and ....trees

The Overstory book cover on woodsy image

A complex but compelling story of activism in support of Mother Nature, specifically trees. Spanning many years and some strong characters, this sweeping story demands that we all take a look at the impact we’re having on the environment.

The Overstory, Richard Powers

Award: Pulitzer Prize winner 2019

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2018, 505 pages

“No one sees trees. We see fruit, we see nuts, we see wood, we see shade. We see ornaments or pretty fall foliage. Obstacles blocking the road or wrecking the ski slope. Dark, threatening places that must be cleared. We see branches about to crush our roof. We see a cash crop. But trees - trees are invisible.”

This book was recommended by a friend and I picked it up not knowing anything about it. It starts very strongly with concise writing that totally captivated me. The first section starts out as chapters masquerading as short stories, each with a connection to a tree. But as I continued, the short stories (some as little as 4-5 pages) developed into the back story of the main characters. I loved this technique to start the book.

In the middle section, the characters start to connect to each other in the random way that life develops…..a meeting at college, paths crossing at a park, etc. For me, the storytelling slows a bit in this section, though I do stay fully engaged. All along the way, trees factor prominently in the development of the characters and the paths of their lives. I also learned SO much about trees and how they live and was fascinating.

Character Patty Westerford, scientist, writes: “Before it dies, a Douglas-fir, half a millennium old, will send its storehouse of chemicals back down into its roots and out through its fungal partners, donating its riches to the community pool in a last will and testament. We might well call these ancient benefactors giving trees.”
Groton Lake, Vermont

The end of the book becomes a bit more philosophical, preachy and long winded while making the point about the necessity of saving trees. It wasn’t enough to ruin the story for me, but it did slow down a bit.

This would be an excellent book club selection if your group doesn’t mind a longer book. I highly recommend it for anyone with a love of nature (specifically trees) or ecology, or just a strong, well-researched, well-written story.

“My simple rule of thumb, then, is this: when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.”

photos by Terrie Purkey, Seattle, WA, and Groton Lake, Vermont

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