Abstract

Care is the intimate and necessary labor required to sustain those who are dependent, but it is also about acting in ways that sustain other species and the lives of strangers distant in time and space. The COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on the vulnerabilities and gaps in global care networks. It creates a crisis of care on multiple levels—the immediate, the dispersed, and the systemic—and it is exceedingly difficult to keep them all in focus. Although Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Overstory (2018), is not about illness or pandemic, it can illuminate varied scales of care at the level of form, by moving from individual stories that are the typical subject of literary realism to a grand vision of the webbed planetary systems—the environment, the internet, the global economy—in which they are enmeshed. This essay argues that, read through the lens of pandemic, the overstory of Powers’s novel is the networks of interdependency that have put the world in grave danger and that gesture to an uncertain future.

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