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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

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Gain

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Gain Cover

ISBN13: 9780312204099
ISBN10: 0312204094
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

From Powells.com:

Recipient of the prestigious MacArthur "genius" grant and finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Richard Powers has long been a favorite of literary critics. The editors of the Utne Reader, though, came closest to defining the impact Powers has on his readers. In 1998 they named Gain one of 10 novels most likely to "change the way you see the world." A truly stunning work, both deeply affecting and genuinely subversive, Gain meticulously details the relationship between an unlikely pair of protagonists: Laura Bodey, a real estate agent and mother of two recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Clare Soap & Chemical, the multinational conglomerate headquartered in Laura's hometown. By outlining the intricate history of both Clare Soap and Laura's disease, Powers reveals not only the inner logic of modern capitalism, but also how deeply and unconsciously enmeshed we each are in its nefarious workings. This novel will not only change the way you see the world, it will also forever change how you see how your place in it. If nothing else, you'll never look at a bar of soap the same way again. Farley, Powells.com

Publisher Comments:

When three Boston merchant brothers coax the secret of fine soapmaking from an Irish immigrant, they set in motion a chain of events that will spin a family cottage soap works into a multinational consumer-goods giant by the millennium's end.

Set against the sweeping, 170-year rise of the Clare Soap and Chemical Company is the contemporary story of Laura Bodey, her two teenage children, and her ex-husband. All live in Lacewood, Illinois, a place that owes its very existence to the regional Clare factories that have nursed the town from nothing.

But when a cyst on Laura's ovary turns malignant and the local industry is implicated, the insignificant individual and the corporate behemoth collide, forever changing the shape of American life. A look at the pros and cons of progress.

Review:

"Erudite, penetrating and splendidly written... [T]here is no gainsaying the remarkable artistry and authority with which Powers, in this dazzling book, continues to impart his singular vision of our life and times." Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Powers may be at once the smartest and the most warm-hearted novelist in America today." Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune

Review:

"Powers is a writer of blistering intellect; he has only to think about a subject and the paint curls off. He is a novelist of ideas and a novelist of witness, and in both respects he has few American peers." Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Synopsis:

Three Boston merchant brothers coax from an Irish immigrant the secret of making fine soap, and set into motion a chain of events that spins a family-run cottage soap works into a multinational consumer-goods giant.

Synopsis:

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Gain tells two parallel stories: one, of Laura Bodey, divorced mother of two and successful real-estate agent in the small town of Lacewood, Illinois, who one day discovers that she has ovarian cancer; and two, of Clare Soap & Chemical, the company begun by three merchant brothers in 19th-century Boston, which by the turn of the century has grown into a large multiconglomerate with factories in Laura's hometown. As the history of Clare Soap changes through the history of America, so a modern-day Laura Bodey descends into a battle with her terminal illness. By the novel's conclusion, we have learned how the largest enterprises affect us on the most personal level.

About the Author

Richard Powers is a MacArthur Fellow and the author of Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance, Prisoner's Dilemma, The Gold Bug Variations, the National Book Award-nominated Operation Wandering Soul, Galatea 2.2, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Plowing the Dark, and, most recently, The Time of Our Singing. He lives in Illinois.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

Peter Saucerman, August 6, 2012 (view all comments by Peter Saucerman)
Richard Powers has created a masterful tale, outlining the birth and genesis of a modern American Corporation. Though fiction, it has the ring of authenticity thanks to Power's command of history, detail and nuance in the Industrial Revolution, roughly from the early 1800's to present day. It was written a decade before Citizen's United and the collapse of our unsustainable economy, so it is a bit eery to see the underpinnings of our present malaise so carefully illustrated and presaged.

Interwoven with the historic story of Clare Soap & Chemical is a very personal family tale of tragedy, as Laura Bodey's health and family gradually spiral downward even as the Company that drives their community is spiraling upward. Utne Reader named this one of the "ten novels most likely to change the way you see the world" - it certainly changed my view.
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jabiz, July 18, 2011 (view all comments by jabiz)
If I don’t write this post/review right now, tonight, I will never write it. It has been festering beneath my skin, down near my bones for a little over a week. I keep telling myself to wait till the time is right. Wait until it comes oozing out and the words write themselves, but I am not sure when that time will come, so before this post becomes infected and pusses into a disgusting wound, I will try to get it out.

I am having a difficult time sharing my thoughts on the novel Gain by Richard Powers, because it could be one of the best books I have ever read. It deserves more than the sloppy stream of consciousness style post on which I am making my name. It needs a dissertation, a New Yorker article. At least a well planned essay. Perhaps I need to teach it as a graduate course novel, as Mary the person who recommended it to me, has done. But I haven’t the energy for such intellectual pursuits at this time. So let’s start with the basics:

In Gain, Richard Powers puts our modernity through the wringer once again. This time, though, he points the finger at one villain in particular: rampant, American-style capitalism, as exemplified by a conglomerate called Clare International. His novel, it should be said, is no piece of agitprop, but an intricate lamination of two separate stories. On one hand, Powers describes the rise (and fall and rise) of the Clare empire, beginning in its mercantile infancy. The author's Clare-eyed narrative amounts to a pocket history of corporate America, and a marvelously entertaining one. Lest we get too enamored of this success story, though, Powers introduces a second, countervailing tale, in which a 42-year-old resident of Lacewood, Illinois, is stricken with ovarian cancer. Lacewood happens to be the headquarters of Clare's North American Agricultural Products Division, and lo and behold, it seems that chemical wastes from the plant may be the source of Laura Bodey's illness.

These two stories are woven together with such subtle delicacy that I was left wanting at the end of each chapter. In the story about the rise of Clare, the reader is treated to a muck-raking ,journalistic narrative seeped in historical fiction. A clear and objective narrator tells the tale of a small soap company that transforms into a multi-national corporation over the course of a hundred years. The voice telling the tale is born of both Ayn Rand and Upton Sinclair, in that the reader is never quite sure what it is trying to tell about the rise of capitalism in the Untied States. At times, the narration is sharp and critical of the often ruthless purity of the American business-- “Industry’s raw inputs were endless, the land fecund enough for any machine dream. A nation come of age possessed no greater peacemaker than power.”

This is not solely an anti-capitalist tirade, however. At times, Powers begs us to consider that perhaps business, tainted with it’s altruistic hue of science and technology, only exists to make our lives better and easier. But, no matter which side of the moralistic coin you choose to dwell, this is a novel that will force you to think about the current state of global capitalism by examining it’s history.

The novel acts as textbook for American history, economics, business, class struggle, marketing, as well as chemistry, environmentalism, and technology. It is a petri dish of discussion topics. But the beauty is that, it is not a textbook, but rather a beautifully crafted novel of intense beauty and poetry. The words drift and float leaving traces of sentences that when sorted into paragraphs leave lasting impressions. The sections of the book that tell the story of Clare, undertake a more formal tone, but are accented with hints of Whitman wordplay and Dickens storytelling in their charm and civility.

Then there is Laura. There is the cancer. The anguish. Tears and soft smiles and goosebumps. The deterioration of the same dream building up on the other side of history. Just as easily as Powers unleashed his powerful lecture on the rise and sometimes awe inspiring beauty of capitalism, with a voice of unquestionable expertise and authority, he now tells the fragile and honest story of a family in crisis in a voice much like Franzen. A quick wit and humor infused with a underlying joyless reality are the back drop of the story of Laura’s cancer. The reader will be left laughing with tears in their eyes at the injustice of a disease that can only survive by growing beyond it’s means-- cancer or capitalism?

Please do not accuse me of hyperbole, when I say this is one of the best books you will ever read. I will read this book again. I will read everything Richard Powers has ever written. Someday I will teach this book. If you respect my opinion on anything, please do yourself a favor and read it.

Be warned, you will not look at the world the same again. It has altered the way I think about technology, science, marketing, America and the very objectives of our species--We have been taught to think that America is leading the train. That science and progress and technology and the cloak of marketing in which it has all been wrapped will save us from the terror that lurks in nature, that somehow the myth of Genesis married to Manifest Destiny, married to expansion and growth and progress and pre-emptive war and the American Dream will somehow save us. From what? No one stops to ask. There has to be something different out there...this novel will force you to stop and ask why you have never thought to question a system that is killing us all in one way or another.
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Michael Padrick, June 11, 2007 (view all comments by Michael Padrick)
In a world where our present satisfaction often supercedes even a consideration of future impact, Powers's novel serves as a brilliant reminder of the interrelation of now and later. Outstanding.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312204099
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Powers, Richard
Publisher:
Picador
Location:
New York :
Subject:
General
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Chemical industry
Subject:
Illinois
Subject:
Cancer in women
Subject:
Divorced mothers
Subject:
Women real estate agents
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
19990619
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9.28 x 6.14 x 1.06 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Gain Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Picador USA - English 9780312204099 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Erudite, penetrating and splendidly written... [T]here is no gainsaying the remarkable artistry and authority with which Powers, in this dazzling book, continues to impart his singular vision of our life and times."
"Review" by , "Powers may be at once the smartest and the most warm-hearted novelist in America today." Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune
"Review" by , "Powers is a writer of blistering intellect; he has only to think about a subject and the paint curls off. He is a novelist of ideas and a novelist of witness, and in both respects he has few American peers."
"Synopsis" by , Three Boston merchant brothers coax from an Irish immigrant the secret of making fine soap, and set into motion a chain of events that spins a family-run cottage soap works into a multinational consumer-goods giant.
"Synopsis" by ,
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Gain tells two parallel stories: one, of Laura Bodey, divorced mother of two and successful real-estate agent in the small town of Lacewood, Illinois, who one day discovers that she has ovarian cancer; and two, of Clare Soap & Chemical, the company begun by three merchant brothers in 19th-century Boston, which by the turn of the century has grown into a large multiconglomerate with factories in Laura's hometown. As the history of Clare Soap changes through the history of America, so a modern-day Laura Bodey descends into a battle with her terminal illness. By the novel's conclusion, we have learned how the largest enterprises affect us on the most personal level.

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