What Is the Meaning of Life?

THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS by Richard Powers

Morrow; 639 pages; $25

Some may find this novel's title, with its punning allusions to Bach's Goldberg Variations and Poe's short story The Gold Bug, a little too cute, and they are probably right. On the other hand, The Gold Bug Variations passes the truth-in-advertising test: the label accurately reflects the additives Bach and Poe to the contents inside and warns away consumers who prefer their fiction plain.

The rest are in for a read of dazzling, sometimes intimidating complexity, which includes, among many, many other things, two love stories, separated by a quarter-century...

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