Richard Powers' novel is a fascinating and profound exploration of the interaction of an individual human life and a corporate one. It tells two stories: the first that of an American company, which starts as a small family soap and candle-making firm in the early 1800s, and ends as a vast pharmaceuticals-to-pesticides combine in the 1990s. The second is that of a contemporary woman, living in the company town, who during the course of the novel is diagnosed and then finally dies of cancer, a cancer that is almost certainly caused by exposure to chemical wastes from the company's factories.
Richly intellectually stimulating, deeply moving and beautifully written, Gain is very much a 'Great American Novel', an exploration of the history, uniqueness and soul of America, in the tradition of Underworld. But it is most reminiscent of Graham Swift's Waterland, another novel that combines history, both public and private, with contemporary lives, showing how individuals are both the victims and shapers of large-scale historical and economic forces