PLOWING THE DARK by Richard Powers


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One of the finest efforts from the massively gifted Powers (Gain, 1998, etc.), who again probes the fluid buffer between science and the imagination, between hope and despair, as two disparate situations—one about a disillusioned artist and the challenge of virtual reality, the other about a hostage in wartorn Beirut—whorl together in a heartwarming fusion.

For Adie, secure in New York's commercial art scene in 1986, the move to Seattle to join a cuttingedge project to build the first virtualreality room reengages her with an art she had abandoned with disgust years before. An experience in ``the Cavern,'' where bright colors and the crudely imaged bees of Crayon World draw her in, leads her first to enter the magical landscapes of Rousseau, then to capture the intensity of van Gogh’s Provençal bedroom at noon, and culminates in her grand conception—the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul realized at life-size. As Adie first takes up the VR challenge, however, a different drama unfolds in Beirut, where Taimur, a newly arrived teacher of English from Chicago, is kidnapped by the bloodiest of the warring factions. Deprived of sight, movement, conversation, and books, and occasionally beaten unconscious, he relies solely on his imaginative resources to stave off madness as weeks stretch to months, months to years. After an unspeakable period without solace, his mind walks him down the streets of Chicago and into the museum where the same Provençal sun draws him into a different room. There, he can finally be free. But despair once more grabs hold of him, just when Adie's discovery (prompted by incessant images of the Gulf War's smart bombs) that VR is a tool for the military as much as for the artist, proves her undoing. In the dark time they now share, both begin to see something new.

As densely detailed as ever, a surpassingly intelligent and profound tale of our time.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-23461-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2000


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