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

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Bewilderment

A Novel

by Richard Powers

Bewilderment by Richard Powers X
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2021, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 1, 2022, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

BUT WE MIGHT NEVER FIND THEM? We'd set up the scope on the deck, on a clear autumn night, on the edge of one of the last patches of darkness in the eastern U.S. Darkness this good was hard to come by, and so much darkness in one place lit up the sky. We pointed the tube through a gap in the trees above our rented cabin. Robin pulled his eye from the eyepiece—my sad, singular, newly turning nine-year-old, in trouble with this world.

"Exactly right," I said. "We might never find them."

I always tried to tell him the truth, if I knew it and it wasn't lethal. He knew when I lied, anyway.

But they're all over, right? You guys have proved it.

"Well, not exactly proved."

Maybe they're too far away. Too much empty space or something.

His arms pinwheeled as they did when words defeated him. We were closing in on bedtime, which didn't help. I put my hand on his wild auburn mop. Her color—Aly's.

"And what if we never heard a peep from out there? What would that say?"

He held up one hand. Alyssa used to say that when he concentrated,you could hear him whirring. His eyes narrowed, staring down into the dark ravine of trees below. His other hand sawed the cleft of his chin—a habit he resorted to when thinking hard. He sawed with such vigor I had to stop him.

"Robbie. Hey! Time to land."

His palm pushed out to reassure me. He was fine. He simply wanted to run with the question for another minute, into the darkness, while still possible.

If we never heard anything, like ever?

I nodded encouragement to my scientist—easy does it. Stargazing was finished for tonight. We'd had the clearest evening, in a place known for rain. A full Hunter's Moon hung fat and red on the horizon. Through the circle of trees, so sharp it seemed within easy reach, the Milky Way spilled out—countless speckled placers in a black streambed. If you held still, you could almost see the stars wheel.

Nothing definitive. That's what.

I laughed. He made me laugh once a day or more, in good stretches. Such defiance. Such radical skepticism. He was so me. He was so her.

"No," I agreed. "Nothing definitive."

Now, if we did hear a peep. That would say tons!

"Indeed." There would be time enough another night to say exactly what. For now, it was bedtime. He put his eye up to the barrel of the telescope for a last look at the shining core of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Can we sleep outside tonight, Dad?

I'd pulled him from school for a week and brought him to the woods. There had been more trouble with his classmates, and we needed a time-out. I couldn't very well bring him all the way down to the Smokies only to deny him a night of sleeping outside.

We went back in to outfit our expedition. The downstairs was one great paneled room smelling of pine spritzed with bacon. The kitchen reeked of damp towels and plaster—the scents of a temperate rain forest. Sticky notes clung to the cabinets: Coffee filters above fridge. Use other dishes, please! A green spiral folder of instructions spread on the battered oak table: plumbing quirks, fuse box location, emergency numbers. Every switch in the house was labeled: Overhead, Stairs, Hallway, Kitchen.

Ceiling-high windows opened on to what, tomorrow morning, would be a rolling expanse of mountains beyond mountains. A pair of pilled rustic sofas flanked the flagstone fireplace, emblazoned with parades of elk, canoes, and bears. We raided the cushions, brought them outside, and laid them on the deck.

Can we have snacks?

"Bad idea, buddy. Ursus americanus. Two of them per square mile, and they can smell peanuts from here to North Carolina."

Excerpted from Bewilderment by Richard Powers. Copyright © 2021 by Richard Powers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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