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.)
"A grand novel--grand in its reach, grand in its themes, grand in it patterning . . . If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century . . . he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick
. His picture is that big."--Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books
"A brilliant novel . . . A vision of wonder."--The Boston Globe
"Fascinating . . . In the end we see what Powers, with his beautiful language and broad reach, always wishes to have us see: the eternal mystery of human personality and how it functions in the extreme drama of the modern world."--O, The Oprah Magazine
"A kind of neuro-cosmological adventure . . . an exhilarating narrative feat . . . Powers is a formidable talent, and this is a lucid, fiercely entertaining novel."--The Washington Post Book World
"A wise and elegant post-9/11 novel . . . 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
"Powers may well be one of the smartest novelists now writing. . . . In The Echo Maker, Powers hopes to plumb the nature of consciousness, and he does so with such alert passion that we come to recognize in his quest the novel's abiding theme--What it means to be human will forever elude us."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"One of the year's most engrossing."--Entertainment Weekly
"[Powers's] characters are unforgettable, flesh-and-blood individuals as finely drawn as those of any contemporary fiction writer."--Steve Weinberg, The Seattle Times
"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.
Reading Group Guide
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?