Gain A Novel

Richard Powers




Trade Paperback

416 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Gain tells two parallel stories: the first, 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 the second, 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 with 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.


Praise for Gain

"Erudite, penetrating and splendidly written . . . 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."—Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review

"With Gain, Richard Powers launches his own strong bid for entry into the canon of America's best novelists, delivering a work both epic in scope and universal in emotional resonance."—David B. Livingston, Detroit Free Press

"What is most remarkable about this novel—and, indeed, about the body of Powers's work so far—is how much life is in it, and how much intelligence . . . I can think of no American novelist of his generation who makes a stronger [case]—that the writing of novels is a heroic enterprise, and perhaps even a matter of life and death."—A. O. Scott, The New York Review of Books

"Mr. Powers clearly has done extensive research on the development of industry in the U.S., and his prose is rich with memorable images and sharp observations on industry and society."—Elizabeth Bukowski, The Wall Street Journal

"Ambitious . . . The most accessible and straightforward of Powers' novels thus far . . . The most emotionally affecting work Powers has done to date."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Brilliantly observed . . . 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 . . . [Gain] is a blast at the destruction, ecological and otherwise, wrought by the Bonnie-and-Clyde-like partnership between American technology and American capitalism."—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review

"Richard Powers has created a rare thing: a contemporary business novel that is also an important work of fiction. At once an insightful history of American capitalism, a formula-wielding primer on soapmaking (yes, that's right), and an intimate portrait of a woman who is dying of ovarian cancer, Gain is a demanding volume that will leave readers marveling at the author's erudition and troubled over the apparent price of civilization."—Hardy Green, Business Week

"This is a harrowing and powerful novel, uncompromising in its depiction."—Joan Mellen, The Baltimore Sun

"Gain consists equally of horizon-busting breadth of knowledge and excruciating depth of vulnerability . . . Powers hovers impossibly between extremes with a tightrope walker's perfect balance. He may be at once the smartest and most warm-hearted novelist in America today."—Melvin Jules Bukiet, The Chicago Times

"An acclaimed, accredited genius . . . There are many moments when the ideas absolutely dazzle."—Adam Begley, The New York Observer

"Gain is Richard Powers's attempt . . . to loft the novel of American enterprise over the old swamps of socialism, Darwinism, and absurdism into a new place. And he succeeds."—Walter Kirn, New York magazine

"Richard Powers has proven himself a visionary writer . . . Throughout Gain there are dreamy, uncannily accurate little paragraphs on the Promethean messianism of corporate America."—Greil Marcus, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

"Subtle, provocative, and powerful . . . Richard Powers' deceptively simple and terrifyingly effective novel Gain says it better than anyone has in a long time: buyer beware."—Rick Moody, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"The elements of a major novel, and Gain only confirms that Powers is, in fact, a major American novelist."—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

"Never one to tread lightly or think small, Powers 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 . . . Yet another unconventional work from Powers, a novelist who never does the same thing twice."—Kirkus Reviews

"'Endless civilization advances, and we do everything but live.' Against the historical backdrop of the rise of the successful Clare Soap & Chemical Company is the story of Laura Bodey, realtor, homemaker, and soon-to-be full-time cancer patient. The novel alternates between Clare's 150-year history and Laura's battle, and it's clear from the beginning that Clare's products are the cause of Laura's condition; as we see Clare thrive and weather the varied problems that come along, Laura continues to decline. The contrast between the two stories seems to be both ironic and tragic at the same time, with the huge corporation silently progressing, blissfully unaware of its unintended victims. What saves the book from being too one-note is the flawed (of course) but sympathetic Bodey family, and the author has certainly done his homework on the business end; Clare's long history is rigorously detailed from candles to chemicals . . . Powers always has something important to say in his works."—Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Library, Pennsylvania, Library Journal

"A novelist who has always taken inspiration from scientific and historical research . . . Powers now follows the lead of environmentally concerned writers Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen and Rick Moody by returning to the great (newly literalized) myth behind Hawthorne's 'House of the Seven Gables': that the tainted American soil will take revenge on us for the sins of our exploitative fathers . . . Impressive and imaginative . . . Powers has given us the historical novel as survey course—a curiosity that we never knew we needed but that we can't keep from admiring."—Publishers Weekly



  • 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