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Operation Wandering Soul.

The MacArthur Foundation is certainly getting its money's worth from Richard Powers. After granting him their so-called genius award, he brought out his huge Gold Bug Variations, and now, barely two years later, comes another huge, rich novel. Operation Wandering Soul is about children: now comprising 50 percent of the world's population, they are the victims of at least that percentage of the world's violence and neglect. Mercilessly, Powers sets his novel in the pediatrics ward of a hospital in Watts, where his doctor protagonist, Richard Kraft, sees an unending line of children abused, wounded, malformed, overdosed, and prematurely dying, ending with the victims of a mass shooting at an elementary school. As Kraft struggles with the implications of all this, Powers infolds into the text classic stories of children trying to escape the adult world - Peter Pan, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," the Children's Crusade - suggesting that for children, it is always apocalypse now. But the present proliferation of guns, gang warfare, drugs, and child abuse red-lines that yearning for Never-Never-Land.

As socially redeeming as this novel is, its true genius lies in its prose. Like Pynchon or, better yet, like Stanley Elkin, Powers's sentences are rich confections of tropes and metaphors, slang and puns, sentences that you want to linger over and savor. The novel is formally inventive as well: one chapter ends with study questions (which later turn up as a homework assignment for one of the sick kids), another has vocabulary notes to Peter Pan, others experiment with viewpoint or chronology. All in all, Operation Wandering Soul is a vastly satisfying performance from a novelist who looks like he'll assume major historical importance.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Moore, Steven
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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