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Richard Powers: Prisoner’s Dilemma

Powers’ second novel suffers from second novel syndrome. It really isn’t as good as his first. Eddie Hobson is a high school history teacher. Thirty years previously, he witnessed the first atom bomb blast at the Trinity test site and is now suffering from radiation sickness and dying from it. But, as his son says, he only talks to us in riddles. Powers tell us the story of this dysfunctional family – father, mother, two sons and two daughters – and, well, it is a semi-dysfunctional family like any other semi-dysfunctional family, in the real world or in the literary world. Of course, there is a lot more, even though the family story seem to take up a lot of space, and the lot more is Eddie Hobson’s private world, Hobstown. He has created a fantasy world, based on his love for the 1939 World Fair, whose hero is Walt Disney. He describes the history of the period but not necessarily as it was, but as it might have been. As in his previous novel (and later novels), Powers examines the effect of history on the individual, the role of technology in twentieth century history and how individuals can cope with this. In Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Powers showed us the positive effect of the photo on the two main characters but here, apart from Eddie Hobson’s youngest son, Eddie Jr., the main characters seem either less interesting (the women) or less attractive (the men) and it is difficult for us to identify with them.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Beech Tree Books