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The Echo Maker Paperback – Bargain Price, August 21, 2007

3.1 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From The New Yorker

This novel, a finalist for the National Book Award, addresses the question of how we know who we really are. Mark, who repairs machinery at a meat-processing plant, suffers a head injury that prevents him from recognizing his sister Karin; he believes that she is a look-alike sent to spy on him. Karin, who has spent her life trying to escape their small Nebraska town, returns to old lovers and habits she thought she'd renounced. Stung by Mark's rejection, she sends a desperate plea to an Oliver Sacks-like neurologist whose popular books have suddenly come under critical attack, causing fissures in his public persona and his seemingly perfect marriage. Powers's smooth coincidences and cute patter can be unconvincing and leaden, and he has a tendency to lapse into distracting repetitions. Yet his philosophical musings have the energy of a thriller, and he gives lyrical, haunting life to the landscape of the Great Plains.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 451 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426437
  • ASIN: B003R4ZIRG
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,528,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By sbissell3 on December 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I always jump on a new Richard Powers novel as soon as it comes out in paper. However this time I was a bit anxious because `The Echo Maker' had won the 2006 National Book Award. If you want to see what I mean, go to the NBA's Web site ([...]) and see how many of the past winners you've read, enjoyed, or even heard of. For some reason the NBA normally goes to some incredibly boring jeremiad on the angst of being a middle class white man in America. While `The Echo Maker' is thankfully not that, it is my least favorite of all of Mr. Power's novels.

I'm not sure why literary critics like books like this. The plot is interesting and weaves, in Mr. Powers' normal fashion, elements of life, science, and philosophy in an articulate manner. However in his past books I always had the feeling that Mr. Powers really had a gut understanding of the science and was able to reflect on it in such a way as to make us see the relevance to everyday lives; this is not the case with `The Echo Maker.' You more or less get the feeling that the science, neurophysiology in this case, was a `cut and paste' from Web sites. Also at least some of the information about Sandhill Cranes, an important part of the plot, was either out of date or misinformed.

Having said all this I still recommend this book for many reasons. Richard Powers is in my opinion, one of the very best novelists writing in America today. His work is solid and will stand the test of time. Why his much superior previous works were not given the attention of this one I attribute more to the strange tastes of the literati than to Powers' talent. Obviously some Amazon readers really liked this book and one review said the important thing to me; if this is the first Richard Powers' book you read it will likely make you want to read more.
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Format: Hardcover
Is the self a smooth continuity of being, or a patchwork that shifts and rearranges to create an illusory but convincing image of unbrokenness? Exactly how reliable are our perceptions of our surroundings and experiences? Are human beings constitutionally unable to harmonize and harness their cognitive powers to the needs of the ecosystem that sustains them? If science's hypothesis that consciousness arises from organic brain function is true, where does that leave us spiritually?

THE ECHO MAKER considers these and other hefty questions within the framework of a sophisticated story about a young Nebraska slaughterhouse machine mechanic, Mark Schluter, who suffers head injuries when his truck overturns at eighty miles an hour. When he awakens from a coma, his only surviving family -- his sister -- is a stranger to him. This is not a case of "typical" amnesia. He remembers his sister, but he feels no affinity or love for, no connection to, the woman in his hospital room who looks like her. He has the same impostor feeling about his faithful dog. Diagnosed with the extremely rare condition called Capgras syndrome, he soon attracts the attention of world-renown cognitive neurologist, Gerald Weber, who comes to interview and test Mark.

As the novel progresses, Mark, sister Karin, and Gerald grapple with dissolving and re-forming self images. Mark's deficit evolves over a year's time, so Capgras doesn't become his only claim to fame in the medical literature. But perhaps even more interesting are the psychological convulsions that jolt Karin and Weber as they react to Mark's rearranging personality.

We meet Weber's wife, two buddies of Mark's, the men in Karin's life, a nurse's aide who makes an indelible impact on just about everyone.
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Format: Paperback
About half-way through this book, I grew so weary of its repetitious and academic tone that I checked out the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, wondering if my reaction to it was just me. I'm vulnerable to that paranoia; but I found I had lots of company. Some people were ranting mad in their disappointment over this book. For some reason--stubbornness--I kept reading and ended up admiring the book. No, I don't think it didn't deserve the National Book Award, but there's mystery, keen and beautiful writing, and compelling speculation about the human mind and identity. As a birder, I loved the crane info too, tho I can see why it all the poetic images of them might seem blithering to many. Overall, the book fails. Powers fell prey after Gold Bug, I think, to a problem common to many phenomenally successful authors: His early brilliance intimidated his editors. They let him wander and detour and maunder on. They didn't keep him honest and true, didn't force him to put real life in his characters or think through his plot clearly. Powers' characters in this book--particularly Gerald Weber--are mere simulacra of real people. In Weber's case, this is a literal shortcoming, since Weber is based on the eminent neurologist Oliver Sacks. Neither Sacks nor his readers (Full disclosure: I love Sacks' books; his recent autobiography, Uncle Tungsten, is one of the finest I've read.) would recognize him here but for the rip-off of his appearance, his book titles and many of his case studies. If Powers had been doing the full work of imagining this character, Weber wouldn't be based on Sacks but inspired by him. Weber's head would be stuffed with human thoughts, not the cold substitutes Powers offers: case study after case study after case study. There was a great book lurking in the manuscript of The Echo Maker, but Powers' editors didn't bother to help him find it. Where's a brave editor when you need one?
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