Richard Powers' novel is a fascinating and profound exploration of the interaction of an individual human life and a corporate one.
It tells two stories: the first that of an American company, which starts as a small family soap and candle-making firm in the early 1800s, and ends as a vast pharmaceuticals-to-pesticides combine in the 1990s.
The second is that of a contemporary woman, living in the company town, who during the course of the novel is diagnosed and then finally dies of cancer, a cancer that is almost certainly caused by exposure to chemical wastes from the company's factories.
Richly intellectually stimulating, deeply moving and beautifully written, "Gain" is very much a 'Great American Novel', an exploration of the history, uniqueness and soul of America, in the tradition of Underworld.
But it is most reminiscent of Graham Swift's Waterland, another novel that combines history, both public and private, with contemporary lives, showing how individuals are both the victims and shapers of large-scale historical and economic forces.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 368 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 01/11/2001
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780099284468
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Review by JasonSmith
Though I applauded Powers’ 2006 National Book Award win for Echo Maker, this is still my favorite novel by one of my favorite authors. Corporations have long been treated like individuals under the law and in this book, Powers has done the literary equivalent--a corporation as a living breathing character. One plot line follows the corporation from its humble beginnings in 19th century Boston to a multinational conglomerate, and the other plot line is the painful story of Laura Bodey who is facing a terminal illness. You know how the stories will collide from the beginning, but you enjoy every second of the journey. The history of this fictional corporation is the history of this country, from cute jingles to advertising savvy, from family ownership to shareholder control, and the consequence of the shifts of American capitalism are written horribly on Laura’s life.