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Plowing the Dark: A Novel Paperback – Aug 11 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (Aug. 11 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312280122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312280123
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 381 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,142,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

No one who enjoyed Richard Powers's remarkable breakthrough novel, Galatea 2.2, will be surprised that he has returned to the richly promising realm of cyber-invention, one of our age's few remaining frontiers and a siren call to restless intellects. In Plowing the Dark, an old friend recruits a disillusioned New York artist named Adie Klarpol to work on "the Cavern." TeraSys, a Seattle-based company, is building this virtual environment at great expense in the hope that it will lower its enormous tax liability as well as, in the long run, provide the template for all such virtual playrooms. "Millions of dollars of funding," Adie's friend Steve tells her when she arrives on the job, "and nobody around this dump can draw worth squat." Suitably impressed by the Cavern's programming, and slowly absorbing its dazzling capacity to project vivid and convincing illusions, she sets herself the task of creating a faithful 3-D version of Rousseau's Dream. Her painstaking efforts in the Realization Lab are aided by a host of supporting characters, one of whom, Spider Lim, proves so sensitive that he gets a bruise from bumping into one of Adie's virtual tree branches. And when the central female figure appears among the foliage, Lim is irresistibly drawn in, marveling that
their first successful leaf, twirling in the Cavern darkness, had led to this--this pale, lentil body turning in his mind's dark. This scapular profile, these tow-line braids. Her hips fell somewhere on the Limaçon of Pascal. The squares of her breasts' abscissas and ordinates summed to an integer. This was the math of women, a field he'd given up studying, female equations whose complexities had long ago surpassed his ability to differentiate.
Powers's lush language corresponds to Adie's vision of Rousseau's jungle, and in turn to Rousseau's own ecstatic vision. Yet there is also something elegiac in the author's lavish descriptions of the Cavern's miracles, as if he were offering a late, last flowering of words before the cultural ascendancy of the image. Great, quotable chunks weight every page. Even readers fond of extravagant prose may find Powers's verbal persistence wearying, though it argues that there are still contradictions and subtleties of mind that no image can track. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A groundbreaking literary novelist and MacArthur "genius" grant winner, Powers (Galatea 2.2; Gain; The Gold Bug Variations) takes on virtual reality, global migration, prolonged heartbreak, the end of the Cold War and the nature and purpose of art in his ambitious and dazzling seventh book. Like most of Powers's previous works, this novel weaves together two sets of characters. One comprises artists and programmers at the Cavern, a pioneering virtual-reality project sponsored by a Microsoftesque company. As college students in the early 1970s, painter Adie Klarpol, writer Steve Spiegel and composer Ted Zimmerman shared a house, an art scene, a complex erotic entanglement and a sense of limitless potential. When the novel opens, it's the mid-'80s, and Steve is a programmer: he convinces Adie to flee New York City and commercial art for Washington State and the Cavern. We follow Adie as she learns about new media and about her new, multiethnic colleagues, each with his or her own emotional problems. As Adie and Steve rediscover high art and each other, both must return to the charismatic Ted and his painful fate. Powers's other plot concerns Taimur Martin, an American teacher taken hostage in Beirut. Taimur spends most of the novel in captivity, thrown back on memory and imagination: his harrowing second-person narration transforms outward monotony into inward drama, building up to some of Powers's best writing to date. Powers's fans love his gorgeous, allusive (if sometimes florid) prose, and his digressions into the sciences; both features, largely missing from Gain, re-emerge here to spectacular effect. Taimur's life and Adie's link up only thematically--they never meet; instead, Powers's dramatic prose and his intellectual reach makes their symbolic connection more than enough to propel the novel toward its moving close. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Years later, when she surfaced again, Adie Klarpol couldn't say just how she'd pictured the place. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
An hour after I have finished reading Plowing the Dark, my feelings are still mixed. On one hand, Powers' prose was simply wonderful with detailed, intricate sentences spilling from every page. The two alternate sections were cut to and from in such a way that I never felt like I was reading the 'wrong' part of the storyline, and I was always anxious to return to the other thread. On the other hand, the storyline pretty much didn't exist, it was more of a two year chunk of life, which is fine normally, but when the ending - as such there was - seemed as tacked on as it did, I was a little disappointed.
But first the two plots. One deals with a virtual reality room being created, the 'Cavern', and we watch as the main character, Adie, learns about it and comes to terms with it. The premise for it is very interesting, but it never really went anywhere: They simply sat around making the Cavern better for two years. While the interaction between people was certainly interesting, and the little comments on society that Powers allowed himself were insightful, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
The second seems completely unrelated, and for the most part it is. A teacher, Tai, has moved to the Middle East to teach willing students conversational English, and soon after he arrives, he is kidnapped and held as a political hostage. Each of these scenes - and there were many - involving his capture and incarceration were written from a 'you look over there, you do this' type perspective, which really worked. Because it is natural for a reader to expect that he will be freed by the end of the book, his section certainly had a clear beginning, middle and end that I could hold on to while the other thread of the story meandered.
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Format: Paperback
Mr.Powers possesses grand ambition. He chooses to write about large and potentially profound topics. In this novel he gestures towards the potential use and abuse of the human imagination - the image he chooses is that of a blank white room, suggesting the interior of a human skull along with the proverbial bare page confronting a budding author. In one strand of the novel, this room is filled with borrowed art and other worldly concerns, imaginatively re-invented through recent computer technology. In the other strand, an isolated mind first covers the walls with memories, focused upon a former lover, and later partly disintegrates through lack of contact with the outside world. Salient to each situation is the idea of how much effort should be devoted to representing the world, and how much to living in it - while not a simple moralist, Powers seems to be warning against representation divorced from any heed to social and political realities, be these personal or global; that is to say, he at least complicates the notion of art for art's sake. The danger of becoming obsessed with the image, and forgetting the reality, is explored through the ultimate use made of the beauty of the virtual room, and through references to religions', particularly Islam's, prohibitions on representation. Powers also seems to be making a plea that we all need each other, for in high-tech Seattle, a team of people must work together in order to succeed, while in the hostage's cell in Lebanon, a mind atrophies when denied company.
At the end of the book, Powers acknowledges a debt to the memoirs of Western hostages held in Lebanon. His research certainly gives realism to this part of the story.
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Format: Hardcover
It took me three tries over the course of a year to get started reading this book; each time I'd get a few dozen pages in and then give up. But the concept - paralleling the stories of the creators of a virtual reality system in Seattle with that of a man held hostage in Beirut, with liberal doses of Yeats, Byzantium and personal angst thrown in - was so intriguing I kept giving it another try, and eventually it took.
Still, it's a dense book, full of half-explained concepts and obscure literary references, and it's not for everyone. Sometimes you can get several paragraphs into a chapter before you figure out who's speaking; given the subject matter, I'm sure the resulting sense of disorientation is intentional on Powers' part.
"Plowing" explores the world of the internal - everything that happens in the outside world, from failed love affairs to Tianamen Square, has an internal side effect on the characters. Even some of the dialog between people is in italics, like thoughts rather than words.
Powers weaves together several stories that illustrate his themes of immersion and isolation: the brilliant mind trapped in a crumbling body, the blind-folded hostage, the computer programmers working day and night to create virtual reality while losing track of the real reality. In all the characters, the hidden internal world, with its past injustices and hurts, has to work itself out before the person can rejoin the outside world.
To really appreciate this book, I think you have to be able to step back and look at what Powers is doing. Trying to enjoy it for plot alone could be frustrating and confusing. By the end you have a pretty full sketch of each character, but Powers doesn't lay it all out for you - you have to piece things together as you go along.
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