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Gain (1999)

de Richard Powers

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5521432,353 (3.81)18
Richard Powers's Gain attempts nothing less than a history of America as told through the tale of a singular enterprise. When three Boston merchant brothers coax from an Irish immigrant the secret of making fine soap, they set in motion a chain of events that will spin a family-run cottage soapworks into a multinational consumer-goods giant by the millennium's end.Set against the sweeping, 170-year rise of the Clare Soap and Chemical Corporation is the contemporary story of Laura Bodey, a real-estate broker. Laura, 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. The Clare Agricultural Division now sponsors every aspect of Lacewood, from the corn boil to the college library. 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.Gain examines the runaway experiment of modern business and where that experiment has left us. Gain is at once Powers's most historically ambitious and his most accessible novel to date.… (més)
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» Mira també 18 mencions

Es mostren 1-5 de 14 (següent | mostra-les totes)
At first, I enjoyed the corporate back story of this book and found Laura's story sort of ho-hum. As the book bore on, I began to find the corporate bits tiresome and the Laura story more interesting. It was a weird inversion, as if Powers was trying to make something interesting of a boring bit of sentimental pap and ruin a corporate back story that intrigued me in the beginning. If he had kept both stories solid from start to finish, he might have had a great book.

Overall, the book was pretty mediocre, mostly pretty slim on style. Pretty standard fare for Powers, I guess, since he tends to be information-dense and sort of literary but not a great stylist. I found myself rushing through the last 100 pages and skimming the corporate bits, a pretty rare behavior for me. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Two intersecting stories: the 150 years of the Clare corporation, from candles and soap to a a modern chemistry conglomerate, and not even a year of Laura from cancer diagnosis to death. This would be the perfect book for folks to read five hundred years in the future, to understand where we are now and how we got here. ( )
  kukulaj | Nov 18, 2020 |
Laura Bodey is a 42-year old divorced mother of two teenaged kids who is struggling to make ends meet as a real estate broker in the small Midwestern town of Lacewood, Illinois. She manages just fine most days, but when she contracts ovarian cancer everything in her life starts to spiral downward in a hurry. Clare International Inc. is a major multinational corporation that is headquartered in Boston but has located its agricultural chemicals division in Lacewood. The firm has been a model citizen for as long as anyone can remember, but recently there have been reports that Clare is responsible for the spread of toxic pollutants that may have contaminated the land and water around town. Is the company responsible for Laura’s illness and, if so, what should be the remedy?

In Gain, Richard Powers continues his on-going exploration of the trends and events that have shaped modern American society. In fact, in the tradition of the sort of promotional campaign used by companies like Clare, the author gives the reader a two-for-one deal in story-telling: the rise of a major corporation from its origins as a family soap-maker in the early 1800s to its modern-day status as a major industrial conglomerate is intertwined with Laura’s heart-breaking personal tale of physical decline. In an interesting literary device, the novel is structured without chapter divisions by alternating between the two story lines—each more or less linear in its own time frame—until they converge in the present day.

I enjoyed reading Gain and I learned a lot in the process, just as I have with every one of Powers’ other novels. Surprisingly, though, Laura’s sad plight did not quite resonate with me, perhaps because there was not enough time spent developing her background before she became ill. On the other hand, the way that the author animated the corporation as a fully realized character in its own right was nothing short of amazing, particularly for all the research and imagination it required to fit the details of Clare’s fictional existence into the historical circumstances that actually occurred over the 170-year arc of the tale. For the most part, this is an even-handed and realistic portrait of what is both good and potentially bad about the corporate form of business organization and that alone should make this novel well worth reading. ( )
1 vota browner56 | Nov 17, 2015 |
i read this primarily in a dark sound booth. so that, combined with the soap and cancer, led to a less than thrilling read. ( )
  helynrob | Aug 13, 2013 |
Beautifully constructed novel that may not capture everyone's attention, but kept me plowing head first. It's been a while since I read this and someone ran off with my copy, but it's certainly something I'd replace in order to read again. ( )
  evanroskos | Mar 30, 2013 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 14 (següent | mostra-les totes)
AT the beginning of Richard Powers's first novel, published in 1985, an unnamed visitor to a
Detroit museum becomes captivated by a photograph of three Prussian farmers heading for a
dance. The year of the picture -- 1914 -- is crucial to its fascination for him. ''The date,'' he
explains, ''sufficed to show they were not going to their expected dance. I was not going to my
expected dance. We would all be taken blindfolded into a field somewhere in this tortured
century and made to dance until we'd had enough. Dance until we dropped.'' The novel goes on
to imagine the three farmers' wartime experiences and to describe how the strangely arresting
photograph impels both the Detroit museumgoer and a writer in Boston to investigate and
ponder the history surrounding it. Along the way, in passages that would not seem out of place
in a philosophy journal, Powers contemplates the annihilation by World War I of the 19thcentury
''doctrine of perfectibility'' and the repercussions of the ''geometrically accelerating
culture'' of our own ''tortured century,'' which, in his view, creates an illusion of progress and
prosperity amid rampant brutality and dehumanization.

''Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance,'' which appeared when Powers had not yet turned 30,
was nothing less than enthralling in its ambition and promise. In the 13 years since then, he has
published four other novels -- ''Prisoner's Dilemma,'' ''The Gold Bug Variations,'' ''Operation
Wandering Soul'' and ''Galatea 2.2'' -- in which he has continued to explore some of the darker
ironies, absurdities and tragedies of life in the American century. Dense, challenging, aphoristic
and swarming with recondite allusions and puns, these novels display an authoritative grasp of
a breathtaking range of subjects, from architectural history and medieval theology to quantum
physics and popular culture. But while Powers never seems out to impress or obfuscate, his
conspicuous intelligence and virtuosity have also won him a reputation as difficult, even
inaccessible.

His sixth novel, ''Gain,'' seems designed to change all that. Like his earlier books, it is erudite,
penetrating and splendidly written; alongside them, though, it seems positively straightforward.
Powers cuts back and forth between two narratives. One relates the history of a small family
soap-and-candle business, Jephthah Clare & Sons of Boston, which over the course of the 19th
and 20th centuries grows into a giant worldwide conglomerate called Clare International. The
other story, set in the present day, concerns Laura Bodey, a divorced 42-year-old real estate
saleswoman who lives with her son and daughter in Lacewood, Ill., the headquarters of Clare's
North American Agricultural Products Division.

Not long after Laura develops ovarian cancer, she discovers that chemicals from the Clare plant
-- or the Clare-produced fertilizers and weedkillers that she uses in her garden -- may be
responsible. From early on, it's clear what Powers is getting at -- the history of a company like
Clare may add up to a classic American success story, but among the casualties of that supposed
success are the health and happiness of some of its customers and neighbors. The pointed
association of business growth with tumor growth, of a corporation's robust health with a
woman's agonizing infirmity, is deliberate: for Powers, there is a direct link between the rise of
corporations and the decline of the individual, of humane values and of human well-being
generally. The title's irony is hardly subtle: have we gained the whole world, Powers wants to
know, only to lose our souls?

Neither of the novel's parallel narratives contains so much as a single surprising plot
development. Yet the book holds one's interest anyway, mainly because Powers, in the
corporate-history passages, makes a compelling tale out of the evolution of American business
practices over nearly two centuries. The story of Clare, like that of many a real-life American
company, proves to be one of survival and expansion made possible by its management's ability
to adapt to -- or even anticipate -- such changes as the invention of the corporation, the
introduction of packaging and promotion and the advent of multinationals and vertical
integration. Powers's account of how Clare's management acquires a concept of the corporate
image and then consciously strives to establish the corporation as ''a person'' not only ''in the
eyes of the law'' but ''in the minds of its customers'' is perceptive and valuable. Has any novelist
been more successful at bringing the history of American business to life?

And yet, for all his gifts, Powers proves somewhat less successful at animating his characters.
This is true especially of the men and women -- most of them named Clare -- who figure in the
nearly dialogue-free corporate history, but it is also the case with Laura Bodey and her family.
By far the most distinctive attribute of the rather affectless Laura is her bemused, quizzical take
on daily life in millennial America, but her reflections always make her sound less like a middleaged,
Middle American real estate saleswoman than an egghead novelist. If at times this cancerridden
mom and her brand-name-ridden life seem almost to have stepped out of a 1980's short
story by David Leavitt or some other practitioner of Brat Pack minimalism (a subgenre that has
always appeared to be at the opposite end of the literary spectrum from Powers), some of the
digs at modern consumer society that Powers puts in her mouth bring to mind Don DeLillo at
his most facile. (''Remind me again,'' Laura asks her daughter at one point. ''Which is stronger:
Mega, Super or Ultra?'')

Illness only makes Laura more implausible. Though she declines from a vigorous, independent
woman into an utterly debilitated, pain-racked invalid, the tone of her thoughts, as reported by
Powers, remains unwaveringly crisp, clever and sardonic. (Which is, of course, another way of
saying that she continues to function principally as an authorial mouthpiece.) It doesn't add up
to a terribly credible or affecting portrait of a soul in extremis. Powers, alas, seems to have
trouble resisting the urge to reduce people to his ideas about them -- a surprising flaw in a
novelist whose chief theme is the dehumanization of Americans by corporations.

Yet this novel's merits far outweigh its failings. Though the dark underside of American
enterprise and the American dream of material fulfillment have long been standard literary
themes, what Powers has attempted -- and carried off -- here is something quite special. One
can have a pretty fair knowledge of the history of the United States and still experience ''Gain''
almost as a revelation. For to read Powers's story of the shaping of today's commercial culture is
to feel as if one has never before seen that culture quite so clearly or acquired such a vivid
understanding of the dynamic, generations-long process that brought it into being.

THE book abounds in memorable statements summing up the significance of various historical
developments. (With the invention of the telegraph, for example, ''time was dead; things could
be known in the moment they happened.'') And how many writers could, at considerable length,
describe everything that goes into the creation and packaging of a single-use camera and leave a
reader at once awe-struck at the complexity of the process, dismayed that so much should go
into the manufacture of an item designed for almost instant obsolescence and haunted by our
culture's baffling admixture of the miraculous and the banal, of technological sophistication and
moral and spiritual coarseness?

Moreover, Powers so effectively ties chemistry to cancer -- tapping adroitly into Americans'
latent paranoia about the ubiquity of carcinogens -- that by the novel's end many readers may
well find themselves staring in terror at the chemical names on the labels of their household
products. And he so powerfully communicates his sense of the corporate world's tyranny over
the 20th-century American soul that one may almost forget the century's far more monstrous
tyrannies -- which were, of course, vanquished through the efforts and example of the capitalist
democracies. Yet if one may reasonably dispute the novel's implicit politics, there 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.
afegit per browner56 | editaThe New York Times, Bruce Bawer (Jun 21, 1998)
 
Never one to tread lightly or think small, Powers (Galatea 2.2, 1995, etc.) here tackles 170 years of US capitalism as embodied by a single corporation, binding it to the struggle of a midwestern mom to a cancer most likely caused by the same company’s malfeasance. The candle-and-soap outfit begun in Boston in the 1830s by the three Clare brothers first built a reputation on its medicinal soap, the secret ingredient of which came from a root given the youngest Clare on a surveying expedition to the South Seas. Prosperity came when the brothers were chosen as a soap supplier to the Army, and diversity followed as the ever-expanding company moved into home, industrial, and agricultural commodities. At the turn of the century, Clare Soap and Chemical chose the sleepy town of Lacewood, Illinois, as the site of its Agricultural Products group. Since then, the fate of the town has been tied tightly to the fate of the multinational corporation. None of this matters to Laura Bodey, a competent, plant-loving single mother of two teenagers whose only links to Clare, Inc., are the homebuyers brought into her realty office as a result of the company’s booming business. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, however, she begins to become aware of reports concerning widespread industrial pollution by Lacewood’s corporate benefactor. Surgery and chemotherapy fail to keep the monstrous cancer at bay, but even as she grows weaker Laura resists joining a class-action suit against Clare, refusing to believe that any of the company’s products could have done this to her--until confronted by evidence from her beloved garden. The personal story is wrenching in its detail, and the larger point is amply made, but interest in the corporate history itself, which is not only weighty but a tad dull in the balance, proves harder to sustain. Yet anothttp://www.librarything.com/work/1486091#her unconventional work from Powers, a novelist who never does the same thing twice, but not his strongest.
afegit per browner56 | editaKirkus Review (Jun 1, 1998)
 

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Richard Powersautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Damsma, HarmTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Miedema, NiekTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Wikipedia en anglès (2)

Richard Powers's Gain attempts nothing less than a history of America as told through the tale of a singular enterprise. When three Boston merchant brothers coax from an Irish immigrant the secret of making fine soap, they set in motion a chain of events that will spin a family-run cottage soapworks into a multinational consumer-goods giant by the millennium's end.Set against the sweeping, 170-year rise of the Clare Soap and Chemical Corporation is the contemporary story of Laura Bodey, a real-estate broker. Laura, 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. The Clare Agricultural Division now sponsors every aspect of Lacewood, from the corn boil to the college library. 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.Gain examines the runaway experiment of modern business and where that experiment has left us. Gain is at once Powers's most historically ambitious and his most accessible novel to date.

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