Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers was originally published in 2006. My
hardcover copy has 451 pages. Winner of the 2006 National Book Award, this is said to be Powers most accessible novel. I can only compare it to the approximately 150 pages of Gold Bug Variations that I managed to read first - out of 639 pages - before I set it aside and said enough. I gave up on it. I wasn't up to the challenge. (From what I read, Publisher's Weekly was correct in calling Gold Bug Variations a "strange, overwritten, often infuriating, manically intelligent and sometimes deeply moving novel.") The Echo Maker surprised me, in comparison. It is a complex, intelligent, multi-layered novel, and the plot was certainly more accessible and immediately more compelling than Gold Bug Variations. While Powers writes beautifully captivating prose, his novels don't appear to be written for the average, casual reader. I also have a suspicion that I'm not quite up to Powers' intellectual capacity.

Although I enjoyed The Echo Maker, intimately understanding the setting and cranes, I also found that it became tedious after awhile and I kept feeling like it could have used some good editing, some tightening up. I was tired of Dr. Weber almost immediately. The only reason I pressed on and finished was because I wanted to see what happened to Mark and Karin and if the mystery surrounding his accident was solved. While I'm glad I tried two of his novels, in all honesty, I don't think I'm the audience for which Powers is writing. The Echo Maker is a recommended novel, if only for a dedicated reader to experience Powers prose.

From the Publisher
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.
Quotes from The Echo Maker:

"Cranes keep landing as night falls. Ribbons of them roll down, slack against the sky. They float in from all compass points, in kettles of a dozen, dropping with the dusk." opening sentences

"A squeal of brakes, the crunch of metal on asphalt, one broken scream and then another rouse the flock. The truck arcs through the air, corkscrewing into the field." pg. 4

"Your brother has had an accident. In fact, he'd long ago taken every wrong turn you could take in life, and from the wrong lane." pg. 5

"She told her boss, as vaguely as she could, about the accident. A remarkably level account: thirty years of practice hiding Schluter truths. She asked for two days off. He offered her three. She started to protest, but switched at once to grateful acceptance." pg. 8

"She hunted down the newspaper and read the flimsy accident account until it crumbled. she sat in the glass terrarium as long as she could, then circled the ward, then sat again. Every hour, she begged to see him. Each time they denied her. She dozed for five minutes at a shot, propped in the sculpted apricot chair. Mark rose up in her dreams, like buffalo grass after a prairie fire. A child who, out of pity. always picked the worst player for his team. An adult who called only when weepy drunk. Her eyes stung and her mouth thickened with scum. she checked the mirror in the floor's bathroom: blotchy and teetering, her fall of red hair a tangled bead-curtain." pg. 9

"Then she saw the note. It lay on the bed stand, waiting. No one could tell her when it had appeared. Some messenger had slipped into the room unseen, even while Karin was shut out. The writing was spidery, ethereal: immigrant scrawl from a century ago." pg. 10

"Eight times an hour, he asked what had happened to him. Each time, he sat shocked by the news of the accident." pg. 59

"What are you doing here, anyway? Who sent you?"
Her skin went metal. "Stop it, Mark," she said, harsher than intended. Sweet again, she teased, "You think you sister wouldn't look after you?"
"My sister? You think you're my sister?" His eyes drilled her. "If you think you're my sister, there's something wrong with your head." pg. 59

Quotes from Gold Bug Variations:

"Word came today: four lines squeezed on a three-by-five. After months of bracing for the worst, I am to read it casually, jot down the closing date. The trial run is over, Dr. Ressler dead, his molecule broken up for parts, leaving no copies." opening sentences

"I spread my hands on the table and divorced them. Through a tick in my eyelid, I pointlessly read the note again. All over with our friend, his four-letter tune. I knew the man for a year, one year ago. Before everything fell apart, he became one of the few who mattered to me in the world." pg. 15


raidergirl3 said...

I know I certainly wasn't dedicated enough of a reader to enjoy this book. Like you, I wanted to discover the mystery, and the whole idea of the Capgas syndrome was interesting, but ultimately, I didnt' enjoy the book.

Lori L said...

In the end I was satisfied with the conclusion, but I know I will not read Powers again. I do think Powers accomplished what he set out to do with his novel.