The Overstory Book Summary, by Richard Powers

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1-Page Summary of The Overstory

Overall Summary

The Overstory is a novel by Richard Powers. It tells the story of several environmentalists and their struggles to make people hear their message about saving the environment. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2019.

A young man returns to his home for Christmas, only to find that his family had died in a gas leak. The insurance money allows him to stay on the farm and create art pieces about the chestnut tree planted by his ancestors.

Mimi Ma is the daughter of a Chinese immigrant. Her father takes her and her sisters on trips to national parks in America, which helps them bond as a family. She grows up to be an engineer and travels the world because of her job, but she has trouble dealing with the aftermath of her father’s suicide.

Adam Appich grew up as a loner. He had an interest in nature and eventually went on to study psychology at college.

Ray Brinkman and Dorothy Cazaly begin dating. They both act in a production of Macbeth, then Ray proposes to her. She accepts but changes her mind soon after that engagement. After several engagements, they finally get married.

Douglas Pavlicek is orphaned as a teenager and needs money. He enrolls in the Stanford Prison Experiment, where he learns about how people act when given power over others. Afterward, he enlists in the military during the Vietnam War and experiences combat firsthand. He is injured and sent home to recover, where his new mission becomes planting trees to make amends for all of the destruction that has occurred due to war.

Neelay Mehta learns how to code when his father buys a computer, and he is found paralyzed by injuries from a tree-fall. Coding becomes like “discovering the thrill of writing.” At college, Neelay listens to Frank Lloyd Wright speak at an assembly about “the living structure that was further refined into ‘organic architecture’ by Wright,” igniting Neelay’s love for nature. He decides to make a video game reflecting the beauty of natural ecosystems. Patricia Westerford is born deaf; her father makes sure she understands nature and grows up observing it closely. She goes on to study botany at school before publishing her seminal work (opposing conventional wisdom), rejected but praised by others later on in life. Her book sells well and she gets married happily ever after with Dennis – finishing her paragraph whilst leaving us all fascinated…

Olivia Vandergriff is a college student who’s struggling in school. One night, she accidentally electrocutes herself and dies for one minute and ten seconds. When she recovers, she’s a changed person because of the experience. She hears voices in her head that tell her what to do, so she drives down to Nick Hoel’s family farm by chance. She convinces him to join an environmentalist protest with her by telling him about how much it means to her personally. He joins the protest without knowing why he’s doing it or where it will lead him; he just goes along with Olivia because they’re friends now and he trusts her judgment. They join the protest together and find themselves living at the top of a giant redwood tree to prevent it from being cut down. They spend a year at the top of this tree until they’re forced down by police officers.

A couple, Ray and Dorothy, is unable to have a child. They take up new hobbies in their free time together as a way of dealing with the stress. Dorothy begins an affair and tells Ray that she wants a divorce on the night he has a stroke and becomes paralyzed. She takes care of him for years until they rediscover their love for each other through reading books together—this time, though, it’s her reading aloud to him since he can’t read by himself anymore due to his paralysis.

The Overstory Book Summary, by Richard Powers