by Tony C. (Parkvillem MD): “Bewilderment” by Richard Powers only has one flaw: it is not “The Overstory,” his sweeping epic combined stories about trees to meditate on the importance of all living things. Instead, an astrobiologist must raise a son, who may be on the Spectrum, on his own and appreciate his quirks, resulting in many moments that appreciate nature.

Powers has a knowledge of science and the world that few authors have; however, he paints his protagonist, Theo, with such a familiar brush that you relate to him even if his studies escape you and you need to Google a few things. Hearing about tales from the cosmos and his mother’s environmental studies through the lens of neurodiversity makes it thought-provoking.

When you use a university as a backdrop and throw in the elements of psychology associated with a highly diagnosed son, you work your readers’ minds without necessarily trying to influence them. The real action takes place in Robin’s mind, where you see an emergency as he does, and you admire the boy’s dedication to tasks that seem too large for us to make a difference.

The author made a unique choice, and I am obsessed with its meaning: he writes Robin’s, Theo’s son’s, statements in italics with no quotation marks while keeping the declarations of others in the traditional grammatical structure. I did not understand it for a while, but it shows how empathic his thoughts are and how intense they seem to typically-developing minds. You hang on to Robin’s every word as a result.

The finished product relates to a chorus of single parenthood, science fiction, astrobiology (I had no idea that career existed, but it does), environmental consciousness, and child psychology. Part of it may go over your head if you do not “know” science, but you relate to the characters enough to go along for the ride. I enjoyed what it made me think about as much as it had to say. Powers is a genius, in case his first book did not convince you as much as it did me. (Note: the ending is a doozy. Please read it and discuss it with me. I am writing this while still processing it. )