National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Overstory and the forthcoming Bewilderment, a magnificent double love story of two young couples separated by a distance of twenty-five years.
“The most lavishly ambitious American novel since Gravity’s Rainbow . . . An outright marvel.” —Washington Post
Stuart Ressler, a brilliant young molecular biologist, sets out in 1957 to crack the genetic code. His efforts are sidetracked by other, more intractable codes—social, moral, musical, spiritual—and he falls in love with a member of his research team.
Years later, another young man and woman team up to investigate a different scientific mystery: Why did the eminently promising Ressler suddenly disappear from the world of science? Strand by strand, these two love stories twist about each other in a double helix of desire.
The critically acclaimed third novel from Pulitzer Prize–winning author Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations is an intellectual tour-de-force that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art.
Powers ( Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance ; Prisoner's Dilemma ) is a recipient of a MacArthur ``genius'' grant , and it seems appropriate: this strange, overwritten, often infuriating, manically intelligent and sometimes deeply moving novel could hardly have been produced by a writer of mere talent. Powers has woven an extraordinary knowledge of music, of science (particularly of the search for genetic coding, and of computer programming), of the mysteries of language and art history, into a saga that is dazzling and wearying in almost equal measure. The novel jumps back and forth between the late '50s, when brilliant scientist Stuart Ressler is involved with an Illinois research team trying to break the mysteries of DNA coding, and the '80s, when librarian Jan O'Deigh and computer programmer Franklin Todd get to know Ressler, now holding an insignificant night job at a massive computer database operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., and try to figure what derailed his promising career. Not a great deal happens, in a conventional narrative sense. Ressler has an affair with one married fellow scientist and learns music from another; his scientific career is, in fact, aborted by his resulting passion for music. O'Deigh leaves her glib Madison Avenue boyfriend, takes up with Todd and is then abandoned by him in his vain search for information about an obscure 16th-century Flemish artist. Toward the end the three principals are involved in a massive computer scam to help a stricken colleague. Despite occasional bewilderment at arid patches of scientific jargon and interminable displays of arcane knowledge for its own sake, a reader persists with The Gold Bug Variations (the title, obviously, is a play on Bach's Goldberg Variations , which have a key role in the book's intellectual structure, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug , about the solving of a puzzle). For there is a perpetual air of surprise about the book, of intellectual excitement, a passionate involvement with words that expands into delightfully witty dialogue and profoundly evocative description. Reading it is hard work, but it's also deeply enriching; the decade is not likely to bring another novel half as challenging and original.