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i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Book Review: The Echo Maker

February 12, 2007

I just finished reading The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. I wanted to read this book because in one of our recent master's session, my mentor, Lawrence Connolly, told us that this book had been written entirely with voice-to-text technology. In other words, the book was more "spoken" that "written." I wanted to see how this affected the work.

It's an interesting read. It was slow at first, slower, I think that most "popular" novels would seem to be, and if I hadn't expected that this book would be a little different, I might have been irritated by that. It's definitely more "literary" than not, and much of the poetry in the text probably comes from the fact that the story was originally spoken.

The story takes place in Nebraska, near the Platte River where the world's cranes stop as a part of their yearly migration. A man has had a terrible accident, and his sister comes to him. This novel has a relatively small cast of characters. One thing that struck me is how the sister, Karin, didn't seem to have any friends. The only person she could depend on was the brother, her only family left, hence her desperate focus on getting her brother to be the way he was "before."

See, during the accident he sustained an injury that resulted in Capgras Syndrome. This syndrome results in the patient believing that their loved ones have been replaced by clever imposters. These imposters know everything that the original loved one would know, and sometimes the patient will accept them into their lives, but they "know" he or she is a fake.

Mark's constant insistence that "Karin 2" is a fake wears Karin down throughout the novel. This would be a difficult situation, and Powers portrayal of it is emotionally gripping. I had to put to novel down occasionally because it would "get" to me.

I imagine that when Powers wrote this novel his germ of an idea started with the idea of Capgras and how that would affect the loved ones, especially in the case of Karin, who has no one but her brother. The accident is a handy way to give someone Capgras, and the rest of the events in the novel spin out around this.

What's particularly neat about this novel are the subplots subtly weaved throughout the text. The main story always comes back to Mark and his accident, but the main characters (Mark, Karin, & Dr. Weber) are well-developed and seem to come to life on the page. I found myself pulled into the story, slowly, but surely. I wanted to know what happened: I cared about all of the characters. Powers sets up a few mysteries throughout, and everything is solved by the end.

All of the characters have flaws, but they also have their shining moments where they transcend that. The new Mark can be a jerk, but so was the old one. Karin's obsessed with getting Mark back to before, because that's the Mark she's comfortable with, but she ends up working for the crane refuge group. The doctor's an oddity, but what neurologist wouldn't be? I mean, after contemplating the minds of all his patients, at some point, the good doctor would have to think about his own mind -- his hidden pathways and motivations.

All of the stories also come back to the cranes, and this was one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel, though there were places when I felt myself skimming over the cranes passages in order to get back to the story at hand. I liked how Powers used the cranes to move the story along - giving a sense of place, a sense of time (whether or not the cranes are around - and it all comes full-circle when they cranes return a year later), as well as a connection to the world beyond the human mind.

All in all, a good read, and I've already recommended it to friends.

Moira at 9:45 AM :: Comments (0) :: ::
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