This fine story examines the deep and extreme life of a modern composer who is also a scientist. Compelled to push the boundaries of both music and chemistry, Peter Els allows us into his tormented brain as he tries to determine the singularity that is the goal of the creative artist. At times baffling and difficult to absorb, Powers manages to ultimately give the reader a glimpse into this exceptional mind by articulating the thought processes which drive an artist to obsessive destruction of the normal. — Karen Frank
On the run across a Hades-like America, composer Els recapitulates his passion for music and science as he seeks the women he's loved. An absorbing novel that fascinates, entertains and challenges the reader. — Louise Jones
Peter Els has given his person over to living his art, music, to the detriment of his marriage and his relationship with his daughter. His music remains the chemistry by which he interacts with the world, so even as only a small audience accepts his art, including a dancer who choreographs it as large, operatic spectacles, he retreats further into his isolation and segregation from the world. So, when federal agents visit his home and confiscate his properties, Els abandons all toward producing a final, spiritual opus, the language Powers composes in plotting this purely literary novel. — Ray Marsocci
“Orfeo is the kind of novel that creeps slowly into a reader's consciousness and makes a home there. A beautiful, cerebral book that's as concerned with the past and how the decisions made by protagonist Peter Els shaped his personal philosophies and relationships and how music played a role in it all, as it is with the very real present and how Peter's hobbyist interest in DNA makes him an accidental bioterrorism threat. Orfeo is an intelligent and incredibly moving portrait of the role of art in both one man's life and society as a whole. Stunning!”
— Lauren Wiser, Left Bank Books, Saint Louis, MO
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Overstory, an emotionally charged novel inspired by the myth of Orpheus.
"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.
In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the "Bioterrorist Bach"—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).