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The Echo Maker

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The Echo Maker Cover

ISBN13: 9780312426439
ISBN10: 0312426437
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What echoes do the cranes create throughout the novel? What do the cranes signify to those who admire them—tourists, environmentalists, local residents along the Platte River? What parallels exist between the echo of the migrating birds and the echoes lurking in Marks shattered memry?

2. How would you characterize the sibling dynamics between Mark and Karin? How much of their former relationship remains intact after his accident? Would you have sacrificed as much as Karin did to help an injured brother or sister?

3. What is Bonnies stake in helping Mark heal? Is her perception of the world distorted, like Marks, or is she actually his best chance for returning to rational thinking? How does she cope with Dr. Webers assertion that faith in God has a neurological component?

4. Discuss the Nebraska landscape as if it were a character in the novel. What makes it alluring as well as daunting? In what way does the regions "personality" mirror that of its inhabitants?

5. Which segments of Mark and Karins childhood do they most want to recall? Which memories of their parents continue to hurt them? Is either sibling on a path, perhaps even unwittingly, of carrying on their parents legacies?

6. What contemporary environmental concerns are reflected in the showdown over the Central Platte Scenic Natural Outpost? Is Daniel equally zealous about his relationship with Karin?

7. Were you suspicious of Barbara in the novels early chapters? How did your perception of her shift? How would you have responded if you had been in her position on the night of the accident?

8. In part three, Karin tells Daniel she thinks Mark might have been better off if she had stayed away. How can we know the difference between selfless and self-serving caregiving? In the end, was Karin right to remain in Marks life to such an intense extent?

9. What aspects of body, soul, and memory are presented in the epigraphs appearing throughout the book? Taken by themselves, do these quotations underscore or contradict each other?

10. In what ways did Gerald take on a fatherly role for Karin and Mark? Was their perception of him any more accurate than that of the fans who attended his lectures or saw him on television? What aspects of his true self was Gerald able to reclaim in Nebraska? What do you predict for his future with Sylvie and Jess?

11. From the friends who figure prominently in his life, particularly Duane Cain and Tom Rupp, and the figures who represent fear (such as Robert Karsh) what picture of Marks past were you able to piece together? What is the best way to discern the truth when memories clash?

12. Did Capgras syndrome make any aspects of Marks perception crystal clear or even closer to reality than his caregivers view of life? What universal experiences are reflected in his inability to accept the identity of someone who loves him, or, near the end, to acknowledge that he is fully alive?

13. How did you ultimately interpret the note? For each of the main characters, what did it mean to be no one? In the end, who else was brought back?

14. What does Karin have to discover about the minds ability to shape memories? How does her understanding of her past change throughout Marks illness?

15. In what ways does The Echo Maker enhance themes in previous novels by Richard Powers you have read? What is unique about his approach to topics as far-ranging as science and history, deception and devotion?

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h, August 14, 2012 (view all comments by h)
Richard Powers's award-winning novel is a double plot about crane migration that's told in a lyrical mode and neurological injury told in more didactic mode. Family drama, romance, environmental contests, and even a detective story also thread through these two main tales. The novel shows Powers's respect for the less-traveled parts of the US even as he shows the threats to them from brain drain and unsustainable development that ruins farming and crane habitat. The information about neuroscience will interest some and put off others. As will the characterization, which is the weakest part of the novel. The ending, however, will definitely surprise.
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Teresa de Eugene, July 9, 2012 (view all comments by Teresa de Eugene)
This is a chilling story involving a brilliant neuroscientist whose self confidence and career are cracking; a young wastrel (Mark) in Nebraska who struggles to return to himself or some consistent, recognizable self, after a terrible car accident; Mark's sister (Karen), unrecognized by her brother and floundering between lovers and identities herself. There's also a mysterious medical aide, far too smart for her lowly caregiving position, intent on helping Mark, and an activist environmentalist intent on saving The Platte River valley to allow the ancient migration of cranes to continue. More delicious characters include a developer, and Mark's lowlife drinking buddies.

This perhaps simplistic cast indicates that the story is character driven, but what I loved about it was a layering of metaphors linking the natural world to this troubled set of individuals. The theme is identity and the mind. Delicious reading.
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zenithblue, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by zenithblue)
Plotwise, The Echo Maker is relatively simple; Mark Schluter, a twenty-something slacker from a small town in Nebraska, flips his truck in an accident on an icy stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. His older sister Karin, after years of trying to escape her roots, is brought back to care for him. But Mark, his brain damaged from the accident, displays symptoms of a rare syndrome known as Capgras; he believes that his sister has been replaced by a doppelganger or government spy.

The story is at heart a mystery. The Schluters try desperately to piece together what happened on the night of Mark's accident, aided only by an enigmatic note left by Mark's bedside at the hospital. The mystery of the accident, though, is enclosed in a wider mystery: the mystery of consciousness, understanding, self. To that end Karin Schluter calls in a medical expert, Dr. Gerald Weber, a neurologist and writer who ends up facing his own identity crisis after being faced with Mark's.

Powers' prose is dense and rich, and in some ways he writes like a modernist; there is the same interest in the fractured self, the same homage to the complexity of consciousness, the same intricate wordplay. If Woolf or Faulkner had a background in neurology, they might have explored territory similar to this. And then too there's the indelible touch of Hardy on the novel, the landscape-as-character, the way lives are determined as much by geography as by chemicals and hormones and genetics.

Neurology, anthropology, zoology, psychology--there's a lot of heavy intellectual lifting in this book. Powers sifts his simple story through the scientific advances and ecological disasters of the last few decades. What you get is a narrative as knotty and variegated as mind itself.

Some readers will be turned off by what will no doubt be called excesses, or by the labyrithine writing. It took me nearly three weeks to finish, but I was dazzled. If you are a reader who not only tolerates complexity but craves it, you are Powers' target audience. Challenge yourself to read this book.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312426439
Author:
Powers, Richard
Publisher:
Picador USA
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Psychological
Subject:
Suspense
Subject:
Neurologists
Subject:
Nebraska
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Medical novels
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 in 0.8 lb

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The Echo Maker Used Trade Paper
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Product details 464 pages Picador USA - English 9780312426439 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review" by , "A remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it."
"Review" by , "One of our best novelists...once again extends his unparalleled range."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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-)"
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.

"Synopsis" by ,
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.

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