three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
2006

A-The Echo MakerWhen his truck careens off a road near Kearney, Nebraska, the 27-year-old driver, Mark Schluter, falls into a coma. He awakens with Capgras syndrome, a delusional disorder that prevents him from identifying his older sister, Karin, his caretaker after his accident. Karin contacts cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber, but Gerald, about to suffer a professional and psychological breakdown, is unable to help. Mark turns to his mysterious nurse, Barbara Gillespie, as he tries to decipher an enigmatic note left after the accident—presumably, by the person who saved him—and understand the truth about the crash. As questions about personal identity and reality surface, the sandhill cranes make their spectacular annual migration.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 451 pages. $25. ISBN: 0374146357

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Echo Maker is a brilliant novel. … Leave it to Powers to melt down the ingredients of consciousness—of God and culture and love and winged flight—and turn them into a vision of wonder on a bleak Nebraska prairie." Gail Caldwell

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The mysteries of perception and cognition, of normality and dysfunction, of reality and dream—all of them are louder echoes of the most pressing mystery that Powers begins to deal with here: the neglected relationship of human beings with the rest of nature, as well as their own. … There’s an apocalyptic feel to The Echo Makers, with intimations of an imminent and unstoppable finality and of people dealing in their way with this fragility." William Kowinski

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Richard Powers’s new novel—a kind of neuro-cosmological adventure—is an exhilarating narrative feat. The ease with which the author controls his frequently complex material is sometimes as thrilling to watch as the unfolding of the story itself." Sebastian Faulks

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"How the brain works is merely one of several mysteries at the book’s heart. … Powers, whose undergraduate major was physics, has a penchant for scientist protagonists fascinated by the intricate beauty of their disciplines yet clear-eyed about science’s limitations." Dan Cryer

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[Powers’s] essayistic clarity—something familiar to readers of his previous novels—tends to edify more often than entertain. … With regard to the book’s big themes, this urge to illuminate every detail and insight can dull the thrill of a reader’s own apprehension; in far less significant situations in the story, it’s merely distracting." Albert Mobilio

Wall Street Journal 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Toward the end of The Echo Maker, a kind of plot sideshow steals attention from the main storyline. … It’s the final disappointment in a disappointing book." Matt Murray

Critical Summary

In novels such as The Gold Bug Variations and The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers has proven himself to be a novelist of ideas, from artificial intelligence to corporate greed and classical music (see our Powers profile in the Sept/Oct 2006 issue). His ninth novel, which raises questions about neurology, instinct, memory, recognition, reality, faith, and a whole lot more, similarly "puts the pedal to the brain’s metal" (Los Angeles Times). Perhaps because of its erudition, it received mixed reviews. A few critics cited essayistic dialogue, stiff character development, and a strange agenda, while others praised Powers’s endless curiosity, masterful storytelling, and ruminations on the human soul and consciousness (represented by the migratory flight of sandhill cranes). Either way, Powers has once again shown his formidable literary talent.