Plowing the Dark
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Pages||415 pp (Hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3566.O92 P56 2000|
Plowing the Dark (2000) is a novel by American writer Richard Powers. It follows two narrative threads; one of an American teacher turned Lebanese prisoner of war, the other the construction of a high-tech virtual reality simulator.
Taimur Martin, the prisoner of war, spends five years analyzing and replaying his life while trapped in a single room. He has little outside contact. He occasionally exchanges words with his captors, and for a short interlude he is able to communicate with nearby prisoners using a tapped Morse code. He reads a book called Great Escape. He spends most of his time thinking about his life and relationship with his girlfriend Gwen. When his story resumes after he is released, he has a child and a wife, and much time has gone by.
In the second narrative, a virtual reality machine ("The Cavern"), is being built by workers at the Realization Laboratory. The main characters are Adie Klarpol, an artist who no longer does original work; Stevie Spiegel, an engineer-turned-poet-turned-programmer; Ronan O'Reilly, an econometrician who hopes to predict the outcome of world events; and Jack "Jackdaw" Acquerelli, a young computer programming wizard. They are attempting to recreate the world inside a three-walled room. They create a completely immersing experience, but near the end Adie realizes that the technology will be used by the military. She has to reconcile with herself, but ends up creating another room which recreates the destruction and rebuilding of civilization. The author ultimately explores the possibilities of what can happen in one room, because near the end the two strands connect in a rather ambiguous way.
Cultural references and allusions
One of Powers' most powerful devices is allusion. The novel alludes to several poems including "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats and "The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost. Several paintings are mentioned, including Rousseau's "The Dream" and van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles".
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