by Richard Powers
W. W. Norton, 2014. 369 pages. Fiction
Richard Powers' profoundly literary novel is also, in its way, a thriller. Peter Els, a composer, retired music teacher, and former chemistry student, has set up a bioengineering lab in his kitchen which against all odds has drawn the attention of Homeland Security. Els googles around to see how much trouble he might be in, and then realizes he is tightening the noose around his own neck. So he runs. Reflecting on his life as he crosses the country, he draws the reader into the world of avant-garde music, and then of other varieties of experimental music as he tries to discover and transcribe the very essence of music. And he can't let his quest go, even when it tears him away from what should be most dear to him and when, the strands of the creation's deepest nature and his need to make music intertwining, he finds himself in peril of his life. Orfeo is a work of extraordinary depth and range, a story of one life and of life its very self.