Trying to Contain Extreme Emotion by Writing Brilliant Prose The interest of this book, I think, is an antagonism between determinedly inventive language and overspilling emotion. There are links with David Foster Wallace here, and a lesson, perhaps, for writers who hope to torture language in order to sharpen emotion. 1. About the language: it seems that every sentence in the book was interrogated for clichés: except for brief exclamations and short bridging sentences, almost no line in the entire 352 pages is a report of ordinary speech or standard description. 268) In many passages, on many pages, this kind of obsessive tinkering produces momentarily confusing but enlightening twists in ordinary usage. It's easy to see one of the reasons: Powers is determined not to write an ordinary sentence, and that determination produces a strange awkwardness of the kind that Wallace first relished and later feared. 2. About the overspilling emotion: the book is about a hospital ward for children with chronic, rare, debilitating diseases and deformities, and their two principal caregivers (the doctor and a therapist), both of whom are emotionally pithed. I don't think this would have been half the book it is if Powers's strategy had worked, and he had contained unspeakable tragedy in its hospital bed.
He is also, for reasons we come to discover during the book, overwhelmed by the suffering of the children in his care. This is not a cheerful book to read. There are more words that I dont know the definition of in this book than in any I have read recently (I had to stop looking them up as it was interrupting my reading too much - you can make a guess at what most of them must mean). If you like Richard Powers, you should read it, but it perhaps one for completists only. --------------- ORIGINAL REVIEW --------------- UPDATE (a few days after completing the book): Despite what it says below, I have just noticed that I have given more 4 star reviews to Mr Powers than I have 5 stars. In my head, I have given nearly all his books 5 stars, so maybe I need to back and adjust the ratings on here. Maybe just a bit too much more, which is why only 4 stars when I normally give his books 5. I've seen Powers compared to Pynchon and, of the seven of his books I've read, this is the one that most fits that: long complicated sentences, snippets of songs thrown in, a sort of stream of consciousness that is best read by letting it wash over you (and, as I think is often the case with Pynchon, best read out loud, although, to spare my wife, I didn't actually do that). This is one of the most intense books I have ever read. In Gold Bug, Powers investigates DNA and the origins of life and he leaves you wondering how, given everything that can go wrong, life ever actually happens and works properly.
"OWS" was a psychological warfare tactic employed to disrupt the enemy during the Vietnam War and Richard Powers adopted it for a title to his book about the plight of children worldwide and across time, a topic sadly relevant today as ever. Pie and sky my cynic side says but I want to dream otherwise and books like "OWS" stimulate hope turned to passionate do something, anything, right.
At any rate, I'm glad I finished OWS, but I highly doubt that I will ever attempt another novel by this author.
With this review of Operation Wandering Soul, I also recommend all of Richard Powers' novels.
The sense of doom tone continues with Joy's reading of the cataclysmic changes of Western history during the Protestant Reformation and founding of the America. I also enjoyed how the author uses disasterous external events (Gulf War, other wars around the world) via TV watching at a Sam's Club/Costco to highlight the impotence that Dr. Kraft feels in "helping the children" with chronic conditions because while watching TV he suddenly sees his children in the TV images of the external events. I also like how the author creates a forshadowing of things to come with what Joy and Espera reads the children. The 5 year resident surgeon, Dr. Kraft, grew up as a "self-reliant" child because he constantly moved around the world and thus could never trust anyone for long. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition that Kraft makes while he is doing radical surgery on Joy in which he mentally compares surgery to American foreign policy (both diplomatic corps and military corps). The juxtaposition is further made relevant by questions whether American foreign policy, just like the surgeon, is really doing the operation for the good for the patient or for its personal ego. Because she has a promising future and because she lacks the imagination that other children have for a better future despite present dire circumstances, Linda Espera takes an interest in her recovery and forces Dr. Kraft to be interested in her too.