Shortlisted for the Booker Prize

After winning the Pulitzer for Fiction with The world tree, the American writer Richard Powers could very well obtain the prestigious Booker Prize with Sidetracks. This is what we will know on November 3 and until then, we invite you to read this brand new novel.

The great American writer Richard Powers lives not far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the states of Tennessee and North Carolina. And since he loves walking in the woods, he goes on long hikes there regularly. We are telling you all this because during one of them something rather strange happened to him: while he was following a path, he felt a pressure, a weight on the top of his body. body. As if a little boy were perched on his shoulders!

“So suddenly, I wanted to know more about this little boy,” explains Richard Powers, who we were able to reach by phone in late August. I imagined him walking right next to me, and I thought of the son of someone around me. He’s a bit special and one day he asked me, among other things, if I was real. This is where I knew I was holding the hero of Sidetracks. I wanted to write about neurofeedback for a long time [une technique expérimentale qui permettrait de traiter les troubles de stress post-traumatique et de déficit de l’attention en stimulant ou en calmant certaines zones du cerveau], but it was still a bit of a mess. When I had Robin, a hero young enough to look at the world and appreciate it without seeing what adults see, it all fell into place. “

Face the difference

At nine, Robin Byrne will not be a little boy like the others. Firstly because he is able to recite entire scenes from films by heart, because he draws incredibly well for his age and because he knows impossible words (like extremophile or slime mold!), But also because he is extremely sensitive to sounds, has great difficulty sleeping and sometimes has spectacular fits of rage.

Robin’s mother having lost her life two years earlier in a car accident, Theo Byrne, a 45-year-old astrobiologist, can therefore only count on himself to raise this strange son. And one fine day, there will be one crisis too many, the one that will push the school administration to suspend Robin and demand that he follow treatment with psychotropic drugs as soon as possible. “In the United States, the autism spectrum is easily used to explain such and such behavior,” says Richard Powers. They diagnose this disorder and then rush to treat the children with medication to try to get them back to normal. However, being different is not always a handicap. It can also be a force. “

But force or not, Theo is going to have to do something for his son. And since he absolutely does not agree with the idea of ​​seeing him swallow all kinds of pills, he will turn to Martin Currier, a prominent scientist specializing in neurofeedback who could perhaps help Robin control his fits of rage. .

A world to be remade

“For nearly ten years, neurofeedback has given very interesting results,” explains Richard Powers. Especially with patients who are in a coma. What happens in Sidetracks therefore does not quite correspond to our present. But the experimental therapy advocated by Dr.r Currier could very well become a reality in the next five or ten years. “

“That said, the emotion that animates this novel is solastalgia, a kind of nostalgic state caused by environmental problems,” continues Richard Powers. Due to global warming, air pollution, all the trees that are dying or the overexploitation of natural resources, children today feel like they have lost something they did not have. never known, and many of them suffer from it. “

With Sidetracks, so we’re not really into science fiction. But on the other hand, it is an integral part of the story. Notably because every night, at bedtime, Theo invents a new planet for his son: Pelagos, which is entirely covered with water, Mios, which began to be populated a billion years before Earth, Stasis , whose climate never changes, etc.

“Before writing this book, I didn’t know anything about planets or space,” says Richard Powers. But that’s what I love about my job. I can spend years researching, immersing myself in a new subject. At 64, it is still a great source of pleasure for me. “

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Shortlisted for the Booker Prize