Norton. Sept. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780393881141. $27.95. F
Theo Byrne, a widowed astrobiologist who imagines life on other planets, is brought down to earth by his son Robin, whose irascibility and erratic moods are driving school authorities to distraction. Theo’s only recourse is to put his own work aside and make Robin the center of his universe. The Byrnes’ one remaining vestige of Robin’s late mother is a brain scan, recorded years before in an experiment. Here is where Powers’s story intersects with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Robin undergoes a form of behavior modification called decoded neurofeedback treatment, using his mother’s brain scan. He improves at first, but then becomes fascinated with the natural world, captivated to the point of overzealousness, leading to the erosion of hard-won progress. And as Robin’s emotional state reaches a state of relative equilibrium, Theo seems to take on some of the characteristics Robin has left behind, even to the point of openly criticizing the psychologist trying to help his son.
VERDICT Writing with the same remarkable attention to detail found in his Pulitzer Prize–winning The Overstory, Powers has created a world and characters that will suck readers in and keep them fixed until the literally bitter end.
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