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The Echo Makerby Richard Powers
2006 National Book Award Winner for Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, 27-year-old Mark Schluter flips his truck in a near-fatal accident. His older sister Karin, his only near kin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when he emerges from a protracted coma, Mark believes that this woman — who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister — is really an identical impostor. Shattered by her brother's refusal to recognize her, Karin contacts the cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber, famous for his case histories describing the infinitely bizarre worlds of brain disorder. Weber recognizes Mark as a rare case of Capgras Syndrome, a doubling delusion, and eagerly investigates. What he discovers in Mark slowly undermines even his own sense of being. Meanwhile, Mark, armed only with a note left by an anonymous witness, attempts to learn what happened the night of his inexplicable accident. The truth of that evening will change the lives of all three beyond recognition.
Set against the Platte River's massive spring migrations — one of the greatest spectacles in nature — The Echo Maker is a gripping mystery that explores the improvised human self and the even more precarious brain that splits us from and joins us to the rest of creation.
"A truck jackknifes off an 'arrow straight country road' near Kearney, Nebr., in Powers's ninth novel, becoming the catalyst for a painstakingly rendered minuet of self-reckoning. The accident puts the truck's 27-year-old driver, Mark Schluter, into a 14-day coma. When he emerges, he is stricken with Capgras syndrome: he's unable to match his visual and intellectual identifications with his emotional ones. He thinks his sister, Karin, isn't actually his sister — she's an imposter (the same goes for Mark's house). A shattered and worried Karin turns to Gerald Weber, an Oliver Sacks — like figure who writes bestsellers about neurological cases, but Gerald's inability to help Mark, and bad reviews of his latest book, cause him to wonder if he has become a 'neurological opportunist.' Then there are the mysteries of Mark's nurse's aide, Barbara Gillespie, who is secretive about her past and seems to be much more intelligent than she's willing to let on, and the meaning of a cryptic note left on Mark's nightstand the night he was hospitalized. MacArthur fellow Powers (Gold Bug Variations, etc.) masterfully charts the shifting dynamics of Karin's and Mark's relationship, and his prose — powerful, but not overbearing — brings a sorrowful energy to every page." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Richard Powers' new novel — a kind of neuro-cosmological adventure — is an exhilarating narrative feat. The ease with which the author controls his frequently complex material is sometimes as thrilling to watch as the unfolding of the story itself. Yet it opens quietly enough, on the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska, where the cranes are preparing for their annual migration. Powers clearly... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) has symbolic duties in mind for these birds (the 'echo makers' of the title), evolutionary oddities from the center of America; and much of the first part of the book suggests we are in for a traditional novel of theme and character, complete with natural symbolism. The central character, a 27-year-old meatpacker named Mark Schluter, is in a coma following a mysterious automobile accident. An amiable underachiever, he is devoted to his truck, and it seems inexplicable that he could have flipped it on a straight road when sober. While he is unconscious, an unseen visitor leaves a note by his bed. The note's contents suggest that whoever wrote it was at the scene of the accident — presumably the person responsible for calling the emergency services and saving Mark's life. Mark slowly recovers. All his faculties return to him, save one: He does not recognize his elder sister, Karin, who has always been devoted to him. It appears that Mark is the victim of Capgras Syndrome (a real complaint), in which patients refuse to believe that those closest to them are who they claim to be. Mark concedes that the woman who tends to him and takes him home is very like the real Karin and has done her homework on their family history, but he never believes she is really his sister. Capgras is typically found only in psychiatric patients — often schizophrenics — so its development from a head injury raises unusual medical and philosophical questions. In her despair, Karin writes to a famous East Coast neurologist named Gerald Weber, and with his entrance the novel becomes richer. Weber, a sort of Oliver Sacks figure, has made a name by publishing essays about his patients. His curiosity is not unreasonably aroused by this case in a million: 'Capgras from an accident,' he muses, 'a phenomenon that could crown or crash any theory of consciousness.' Or, as he puts it to his wife, Sylvie: 'It's the kind of neither-both case that could help arbitrate between two very different paradigms of mind.' As the narrative switches temporarily to Weber's point of view, we see Mark in a different light, but it's still a character-driven novel with the puzzle of human consciousness as its meaty theme. That would be enough for most readers, I imagine, but Powers has other ideas. At about the halfway stage, these themes become secondary to the story. What really happened to Mark that night? Who wrote that note? Will he ever recognize Karin again? Around these three questions, Powers draws in a larger cast: Karin's nature-conservationist lover and her property-developer ex; Mark's two old buddies from the meatpacking plant and, most importantly, his care assistant, Barbara, who seems over-sophisticated for her job and appears disconcertingly familiar to more than one other character. This complicated story is masterfully controlled; the pace never slackens; the writing remains direct and clear. While Mark attempts to reintegrate himself, Weber slides unwillingly the other way. An adverse critical and public reaction to his new book, coupled with a sense of failure in Mark's case, precipitates a frightening disintegration. He questions his life's work and, especially, its motivation; he even fails (in a neat parallel to Mark) to recognize the virtues of those closest to him. Weber's breakdown, apparently psychological in cause and effect, is nevertheless analyzed by him in neurological terms, and in a book of bravura switches of viewpoint, this is Powers' greatest coup. By the end of the novel, the narrative stakes have been raised very high, yet on the three main questions, Powers delivers handsomely: Mysteries are resolved, answers satisfactorily given. For this concentration on plot, however, there remains a price to be paid in thematic richness. It is futile to complain that the riddle of human consciousness is not fully explained; Powers illuminates it as far as current science permits and dramatizes his findings with a novelist's concern for character. Yet the resolution of the Capgras issue, realistic though it is, does not pull its weight emotionally, and the end of the mystery-note story does not reverberate as much as it might. This certainly should not dim one's admiration for Powers' boldness. He is a formidable talent, and this is a lucid, fiercely entertaining novel — which, incidentally, with the inevitable loss of intellectual richness, would make a terrific movie. Sebastian Faulks' new novel is 'Human Traces.'" Reviewed by Sebastian Faulks, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it." Booklist (Starred Review)
"One of our best novelists...once again extends his unparalleled range." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] muscularly ambitious book, one that scatters small yet piercing revelations among the more thunderous ideas....Powers may well be one of the smartest novelists now writing." Los Angeles Times
"Cleverly, this novel isn't simply about Mark's damaged brain...instead, it sheds light generally on the human mind and our struggle to make sense of both the past and the present." Library Journal
"[A] mad symphony on the fragility of human identity....There's far too much happening in The Echo Maker...but the chaotic novel is nonetheless one of the year's most engrossing. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"It's a tribute to Powers's nimble plotting that the mysteries unfold so organically and stealthily that you are unaware of his machinations until they come to stunning fruition....Powers accomplishes something magnificent." Colson Whitehead, the New York Times Book Review
Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges from a coma, he believes that this woman — who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister — is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark's accident, threatens to change all of their lives beyond recognition. In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our boldest and most entertaining novelists.
Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction
The Echo Maker is "a remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it" (Booklist, starred review).
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges from a coma, he believes that this woman--who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister--is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark's accident, threatens to change all of their lives beyond recognition. In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our boldest and most entertaining novelists.
About the Author
Richard Powers is the author of nine novels and has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He lives in Illinois.
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