I just finished reading Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker. As you may know, the book won the National Book Award for fiction last week. The New York Times stated that the award once again was awarded to an obscure writer the top prize for fiction. But I think many readers will think it’s a well deserved honor. I have been a Powers fan since I first read Galatea 2.0 several years ago. Here is the description of The Echo Maker from the publisher:
“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.”
I like the way the novel makes you think of how you create “your self” — what that’s based on, and how fragile it is in both real biology and in abstract psychology. I also like the comments Powers makes indirectly about post 9-11 America; it looks like the world we once lived in, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
I also came across this online discussion abut the book. I haven’t had time to read and take part in the discussion yet myself, but I’m looking forward to discussing some of the books themes.