Excerpt from Orfeo by Richard Powers, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 393 pages
    Sep 2014, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

That dog trusted me, Els said.

Goldens are good dogs, the woman said.

That dog loved everybody. I'm surprised she lasted fourteen years.

The male officer pulled the quilt back over the corpse. He retreated down the hall and stepped back over the gate. He fingered his belt: baton, handcuffs, communicator, keys, pepper spray, flashlight, gun. His brass name bar read Mark Powell. You'll have to contact Animal Care and Control.

I thought I'd . . . Els thumbed toward the back of the house. Give her a decent burial. She loved it back there.

You have to call Animal Care and Control, sir. Reasons of public health. We can give you the number.

Ah! Peter Els raised his brows and nodded, as if all kinds of mysteries at last made sense. The woman gave him a number. She assured him that the law required the call and that nothing could be easier.

Officer Powell scanned the shelves of CDs: thousands of discs, the latest obsolete technology. A large wooden frame, like a freestanding coat rack, stood against one wall. Several sawn-off water-cooler bottles hung from the frame by bungee cords.

Powell touched his belt. Judas Priest!

Cloud chamber bowls, Els said.

Cloud chamber? Isn't that some kind of . . . ?

It's just a name, Els said. You play them.

You're a musician?

I used to teach it. Composition.

A songwriter?

Peter Els cupped his elbows and bowed his head. It's complicated.

What do you mean, 'complicated'? Techno-folk? Psychobilly ska?

I don't write much anymore.

Officer Powell looked up. Why not?

A lot of music in the world.

The communicator on the policeman's belt hissed and a woman's voice issued phantom instructions.

True, that. A lot of everything.

The officers swung back toward the front door. Off the dining room, a study stood open. The room's shelves swelled with beakers, tubing, and jars with printed labels. A half-sized refrigerator stood next to a long counter, where a compound microscope sat hooked up to a computer. The white metal body, black eyepieces, and silver objective looked like an infant Imperial Stormtrooper. More equipment covered a workbench on the far wall, glowing with colored LCDs.

Whoa, Officer Powell said.

My lab, Els explained.

I thought you wrote songs.

It's a hobby. It relaxes me.

The woman, Officer Estes, frowned. What are all the petri dishes for?

Peter Els wiggled his fingers. To house bacteria. Same as us.

Would you mind if we . . . ?

Els drew back and studied his interrogator's badge. It's getting a little late.

The police officers traded glances. Officer Powell opened his mouth to clarify, then stopped.

All right, Officer Estes said. We're sorry about your dog.

Peter Els shook his head. That dog would sit and listen for hours. She loved every kind of music there is. She even sang along.

When the police left the house, the wind had died and the insects paused their eerie explorations. For half a measure, as the officers headed down the sidewalk, there came a softness bordering on peace. The dark calm lasted all the way to the car, where the pair at once began placing calls.

What was I thinking? I wasn't, really. I've always been guilty of thinking too much. This was doing, pure and simple.

The dog answered only to Fidelio, from the moment Els first used the name. Music launched her into ecstasies. She loved long, held intervals, preferably seconds, major or minor. When any human sustained a pitch for more than a heartbeat, she couldn't help joining in.

Excerpted from Orfeo by Richard Powers. Copyright © 2014 by Richard Powers. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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