Plowing the Dark A Novel

Richard Powers




Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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In a digital laboratory on the shores of Puget Sound, a band of virtual reality researchers race to complete the Cavern, an empty white room that can become a jungle, a painting, or a vast Byzantine cathedral. In a war-torn Mediterranean city, an American is held hostage, chained to a radiator in another empty white room.

Adie Klarpol, a skilled but disillusioned artist, comes back to life, revived by the thrill of working with the Cavern's cutting-edge technology. Against the collapse of Cold War empires and the fall of the Berlin Wall, she retreats into the dangerous cyber-realities she has been hired to create. As her ex-husband lies dying and the outbreak of computerized war fills her with a sense of guilty complicity, Adie is thrown deeper into building a place of beauty and unknown power, were she might fend off the incursions of the real world gone wrong.

On the other side of the globe, Taimur Martin, an English teacher retreating from a failed love affair, is picked up off the streets in Beirut by Islamic fundamentalists and held in solitary captivity. Without distraction or hope of release, he must keep himself whole by the force of his memory alone. Each infinite, empty day moves him closer to insanity, and only the surprising arrival of sanctuary sustains him for the shattering conclusion. Plowing the Dark is fiction that explores the imagination's power to both destroy and save. What can possibly join two such remote places? Only the shared imagination, a room that these people unwittingly build in common, where they are all about to meet, where the dual frames of this inventive novel to coalesce.


Praise for Plowing the Dark

"A fiercely visual book . . . the effect is spectacular . . . The most visceral prose Powers has ever written."—Daniel Zalewski, The New York Times Book Review

"America's most ambitious novelist . . . Plowing The Dark is virtual reality composed in a language that will never go obsolete. No one who becomes immersed in its poetry will walk out the way he or she came in."—Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"Plowing The Dark may be [Powers's] most finely executed story yet . . . Relentless and mesmerizing . . . a beautiful homage to the sine qua non of consciousness itself . . . the final triumph of art over pain."—Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe

"Powers has an inventive, virtuosic writing style that reserves him a special category in today's fiction . . . I don't have the space to do justice to all the wonders of craftsmanship in Plowing The Dark . . . This is the first emblematic novel of the 21st century, a lesson and an inspiration."—Judy Doenges, The Seattle Times

"[A] tour de force. It has overwhelming inventiveness and fun moments as well."—Donald Newlove, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"This is, ultimately, a novel of ideas, but one with a soul . . . There is much to admire in this novel, particularly the ingenious way in which reality is captured."—Scott Leibs, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Full of intelligence, exacting analysis and supple prose . . . [a] magisterial storybook."—Corey Mesler, The Commercial Appeal

"Powers' twin tales are rife with echoes and allusions that reinforce their shared concern with the ways in which we reinvent our worlds."—Ralph Rugoff, LA Weekly

"Superb . . . perhaps [Powers'] greatest novel . . . Nearly every page of Powers' astonishing book has stunning ideas that will force you to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about these subjects, and the implications you never imagined."—Steven Moore, The Newark Star-Ledger

"Powers displays his trademark intellectual richness . . . His prose makes technology sing and music compute."—Michael Harris, Los Angeles Times


Read an Excerpt

Plowing the Dark
1Years later, when she surfaced again, Adie Klarpol couldn't say just how she'd pictured the place. Couldn't even begin to draw what she'd imagined. Some subterranean confection of dripped stone, swarming with blind cave newts. A spelunker's scale model Carlsbad. Summer dacha of the Mountain King.The Cavern, Stevie had called it. Stevie Spiegel, phoning her up out of nowhere, in the middle of the night, after years of their thinking one another dead, when they thought of each other at all. The Cavern. A name that formed every shape in her mind except its own.She had not placed
Read the full excerpt


  • Richard Powers

  • Richard Powers is the author of ten novels, including Generosity, Gain, The Time of Our Singing, Galatea 2.2, and Plowing the Dark. The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Illinois.
  • Richard Powers Jane Kuntz
    Richard Powers