The Echo Maker

( 22 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

Winner of the 2006 National Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

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.
Sebastian Faulks
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.
—The Washington Post
Colson Whitehead
Part of the joy of reading Powers over the years has been his capacity for revelation. His scientific discourses point to how the world works, but the struggles of his characters, whether down-and-out misfits like Mark or well-heeled magicians like Weber, help us understand how we work. And that’s where the setting — 2002, early 2003 — comes in. As the features of life after 9/11 come into focus — the engagement in Afghanistan, "that bleak, first anniversary" of the attacks, the march to war in Iraq — Powers accomplishes something magnificent, no facile conflation of personal catastrophe with national calamity, but a lovely essay on perseverance in all its forms.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Powers (The Time of Our Singing ), who has won a Lannan Literary Award and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction, here investigates the mystery of traumatic brain injury. Set in small-town Nebraska near the bird-watching spectacle of Platte River, Powers's ninth novel centers on the life of 27-year-old Mark Schluter, who is unable to recognize his sister, Karin, after suffering a near-fatal accident. Desperate for clarity, Karin turns to world-renowned cognitive neurologist and writer Gerald Weber (reminiscent of the real-life Oliver Sacks). Cleverly, this novel isn't simply about Mark's damaged brain (he appears to suffer from a rare case of Capgras syndrome); instead, it sheds light generally on the human mind and our struggle to make sense of both the past and the present. Echo Maker is both mystery and case history as Mark struggles to investigate his accident through an anonymous note and Weber attempts to sort through the nuance and plasticity of the mind in his own declining years. Powers bounces back and forth through Mark's rambling thoughts, Weber's neurological theories, Karin's insecurities, and wonderfully poetic details of the cranes on the Platte River. Recommended for large public libraries.-Stephen Morrow, Columbus, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The theme of cognitive disorder, variously explored in Powers's forbiddingly brainy earlier fiction, is the central subject of his eerie, accomplished ninth novel. An image of sand-hill cranes migrating from Nebraska's Platte River sets the scene, where 20-something slaughterhouse-worker Mark Schluter crashes his truck in an adjacent field, sustaining severe bodily and neurological injuries. Repeating an all-too-familiar pattern, Mark's older sister Karin leaves her job and life in Sioux City to be with him-stirring up memories of their shared childhood in thrall to a violent, alcoholic father and religious zealot mother. But Mark (whose inchoate, terrified viewpoint is rendered in a rich melange of semi-coherent thoughts and visions) no longer knows Karin; he is, in fact, convinced she's a stranger masquerading as his sister. Eventually, he's diagnosed as suffering from "Capgras syndrome . . . one of a family of misidentification delusions." But Mark's symptoms elude the pattern familiar to Gerald Weber, a prominent New York cognitive neurologist and bestselling author, summoned by Karin's importuning letter. Weber's "tests" fail to relieve or explain Mark's delusive paranoia, and Karin turns first to the siblings' former childhood friend Daniel Riegel, long since estranged from Mark, now a deeply committed environmental activist; then to her former lover Robert Karsh, a manipulative charmer who has risen to local prominence as a successful developer. Contrasts thus established seem pat, but Powers explores the mystery surrounding Mark through suspenseful sequences involving his raucous drinking buddies (who may know more about his accident than they're telling); compassionate caregiverBarbara Gillespie; and the unidentified observer who left a cryptic message about Mark's ordeal at the patient's hospital bedside. Issues of environmental stewardship and rapine, compulsions implicit in migratory patterns and Weber's changing concept of the fluid, susceptible nature of the self are sharply dramatized in a fascinating dance of ideas. One of our best novelists (The Time of Our Singing, 2003, etc.) once again extends his unparalleled range.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312426439
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/21/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 172,917
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet 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.

Biography

It isn't easy to characterize Richard Powers in a single sentence. The MacArthur grant recipient and award-winning novelist suffers from what Powers himself, in a Salon interview, called "a restlessness of theme"—his books feature everything from molecular genetics and neural networks to soap manufacturers and singers. What they have in common is something Powers refers to as "the aerial view": a perspective that sees humankind as one small element in a complex universe.

As a child in Chicago's northern suburbs, and later as a teenager in Thailand, Powers had no thoughts of becoming a writer. He believed he was destined to be a scientist and explored paleontology, archaeology, and oceanography before he finally enrolled as a physics major at the University of Illinois. But an honors literature seminar helped inspire him to change fields, and he ended up earning his M.A. in English. Powers then moved to Boston, where he found work as a technical writer and computer programmer. He embarked on an omnivorous, self-directed reading program and spent his Saturdays at the Museum of Fine Arts, where he came across a photograph titled "Young Westerwald Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1914."

"The words [of the title] went right up my spine," he later told an interviewer for Cultural Logic. "I knew instantly not only that they were on their way to a different dance than they thought they were, but that I was on the way to a dance that I hadn't anticipated until then. All of my previous year's random reading just consolidated and converged on this one moment, this image, which seemed to me to be the birth photograph of the twentieth century."

The photograph also engendered Powers's career as a novelist. His first book, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, was followed by Prisoner's Dilemma and The Gold Bug Variations, which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book and as Time magazine's Book of the Year for 1991. Gerald Howard, writing in The Nation, called Powers "one of the few younger American writers who can stake a claim to the legacy of Pynchon, Gaddis, and DeLillo." The Gold Bug Variations, which includes the story of a Bach-obsessed scientist who abandons his quest to crack the genetic code, established Powers as a writer who could articulate questions about science and technology—which emerge again in novels like Galatea 2.2, about a writer trying to teach literature to an artificial-intelligence program named Helen, and Plowing the Dark, which explores virtual reality and the human imagination as different means (or possibly the same means) of escaping the physical limitations of life.

Powers's works are packed with puns, parallels, and allusions; as Daniel Mendelsohn noted in The New York Times Book Review, each novel is "a kind of literary installation in which art objects, theoretical musings, plots and subplots, disquisitions on intellectual and literary history, histories of countries and corporations" illuminate an underlying theme. For some critics, Powers's brand of literary gamesmanship can be too much of a good thing: "He is quite capable of fluent sequential narrative, and readers will be relieved when he lapses into it after all the self-conscious brilliance and endlessly impressive allusion," noted a Publishers Weekly review of Operation Wandering Soul. But for his fans, part of the pleasure of a Powers novel comes from its dazzling and unexpected fusions of intellect and imagination. "It's instruct and delight, right?" Powers asked in the Salon interview. "You gotta give both."

Good To Know

Powers holds the Swanlund Chair in English at the University of Illinois, where he has taught classes in multimedia authoring and the mechanics of narrative.

On the Internet, he has been the subject of several hypertext essays, along with a hypertext vignette titled "Richard Powers Eats Peanut Butter Sandwich."

Several of Powers's novels have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, including Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, The Gold Bug Variations, and Galatea 2.2. Operation Wandering Soul was a National Book Award finalist.

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    1. Hometown:
      Urbana, Illinois
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 18, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Evanston, Illinois
    1. Education:
      M.A., University of Illinois, 1979

Read an Excerpt



The Echo Maker


A Novel


By Richard Powers


Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC


Copyright © 2006

Richard Powers

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-14635-7



Chapter One


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.
Scores of Grus canadensis settle on the thawing river. They gather on the island flats,
grazing, beating their wings, trumpeting: the advance wave of a mass evacuation. More
birds land by the minute, the air red with calls.

A neck stretches long; legs drape behind. Wings curl forward, the length of a man.
Spread like fingers, primaries tip the bird into the wind's plane. The blood-red head bows
and the wings sweep together, a cloaked priest giving benediction. Tail cups and belly
buckles, surprised by the upsurge of ground. Legs kick out, their backward knees
flapping like broken landing gear. Another bird plummets and stumbles forward, fighting
for a spot in the packed staging ground along those few miles of water still clear and wide
enough to pass as safe.

Twilight comes early, as it will for a few more weeks. The sky, ice blue through the
encroaching willows and cottonwoods, flares up, a brief rose, before collapsing to indigo.
Late February on the Platte, and the night's chill haze hangs over this river, frosting the
stubble from last fall that still fills the bordering fields. The nervousbirds, tall as
children, crowd together wing by wing on this stretch of river, one that they've learned to
find by memory.

They converge on the river at winter's end as they have for eons, carpeting the wetlands.
In this light, something saurian still clings to them: the oldest flying things on earth, one
stutter-step away from pterodactyls. As darkness falls for real, it's a beginner's world
again, the same evening as that day sixty million years ago when this migration began.

Half a million birds-four-fifths of all the sandhill cranes on earth-home in on this
river. They trace the Central Flyway, an hourglass laid over the continent. They push up
from New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, hundreds of miles each day, with thousands more
ahead before they reach their remembered nests. For a few weeks, this stretch of river
shelters the miles-long flock. Then, by the start of spring, they'll rise and head away,
feeling their way up to Sas-katchewan, Alaska, or beyond.

This year's flight has always been. Something in the birds retraces a route laid down
centuries before their parents showed it to them. And each crane recalls the route still to
come.

Tonight's cranes mill again on the braided water. For another hour, their massed calls
carry on the emptying air. The birds flap and fidget, edgy with migration. Some tear up
frosty twigs and toss them in the air. Their jitters spill over into combat. At last the
sandhills settle down into wary, stilt-legged sleep, most standing in the water, a few
farther up in the stubbled fields.

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. A plume
shoots through the birds. They lurch off the ground, wings beating. The panicked carpet
lifts, circles, and falls again. Calls that seem to come from creatures twice their size
carry miles before fading.

By morning, that sound never happened. Again there is only here, now, the river's braid,
a feast of waste grain that will carry these flocks north, beyond the Arctic Circle. As first
light breaks, the fossils return to life, testing their legs, tasting the frozen air, leaping free,
bills skyward and throats open. And then, as if the night took nothing, forgetting
everything but this moment, the dawn sandhills start to dance. Dance as they have since
before this river started.

Her brother needed her. The thought protected Karin through the alien night. She drove in
a trance, keeping to the long dogleg, south down Nebraska 77 from Siouxland, then west
on 30, tracking the Platte. The back roads were impossible, in her condition. Still
shattered from the telephone's stab at two a.m.: Karin Schluter? This is Good Samaritan
Hospital in Kearney. Your brother has had an accident.

The aide wouldn't say anything over the phone. Just that Mark had flipped over on the
shoulder of North Line Road and had lain pinned in his cab, almost frozen by the time the
paramedics found and freed him. For a long time after hanging up, she couldn't feel her
fingers until she found them pressed into her cheeks. Her face was numb, as if she had
been the one lying out there, in the freezing February night.

Her hands, stiff and blue, clawed the wheel as she slipped through the reservations. First
the Winnebago, then the rolling Omaha. The scrub trees along the patchy road bowed
under tufts of snow. Winnebago Junction, the Pow Wow grounds, the tribal court and
volunteer fire department, the station where she bought her tax-free gas, the hand-painted
wooden shingle reading "Native Arts Gift Shop," the high school-Home of the
Indians-where she'd volunteer-tutored until despair drove her off: the scene turned
away from her, hostile. On the long, empty stretch east of Rosalie, a lone male her
brother's age in a too-light coat and hat-Go Big Red-tracked through the roadside
drift. He turned and snarled as she passed, repelling the intrusion.

The suture of the centerline drew her downward into the snowy black. It made no sense:
Mark, a near-professional driver, rolling off an arrow-straight country road that was as
familiar to him as breathing. Driving off the road, in central Nebraska-like falling off a
wooden horse. She toyed with the date: 02/20/02. Did it mean anything? Her palms
butted the wheel, and the car shook. 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. Telephone
calls coming in at awful hours, as far back as she could remember. But never one like
this.

She used the radio to keep herself awake. She tuned in to a crackpot talk-radio show
about the best way to protect your pets from water-borne terrorist poisonings. All the
deranged, static voices in the dark seeped into her, whispering what she was: alone on a
deserted road, half a mile from her own disaster.

What a loving child Mark had been, staffing his earthworm hospital, selling his toys to
stave off the farm foreclosure, throwing his eight-year-old body between their parents
that hideous night nineteen years ago when Cappy took a loop of power cord to Joan.
That was how she pictured her brother, as she fell headlong into the dark. The root of all
his accidents: too caring by half.

Outside Grand Island, two hundred miles down from Sioux, as the day broke and the sky
went peach, she glimpsed the Platte. First light glinted off its muddy brown, calming her.
Something caught her eye, bobbing pearl waves flecked with red. Even she thought
highway hypnosis, at first. A carpet of four-foot birds spread as far as the distant tree line.
She'd seen them every spring for more than thirty years, and still the dancing mass made
her jerk the wheel, almost following her brother.

He'd waited until the birds returned to spin out. He'd been a mess already, back in
October, when she drove this same route for their mother's wake. Camping out with his
beef-packing friends in the ninth circle of Nintendo hell, starting in on the six-packs for
liquid brunch, fully loaded by the time he headed in to work on the swing shift.
Traditions to protect, Rabbit; family honor. She hadn't had the will then, to talk sense to
him. He wouldn't have heard her, if she had. But he'd made it through the winter, even
pulled himself together a little. Only for this.

Kearney rose up: the scattered outskirts, the newly extruded superstore strip, the fast-food
grease trough along Second, the old main drag. The whole town suddenly struck her as a
glorified I-80 exit ramp. Familiarity filled her with a weird, inappropriate calm. Home.

She found Good Samaritan the way the birds found the Platte. She spoke to the trauma
doctor, working hard to follow him. He kept saying moderate severity, stable, and lucky.
He looked young enough to have been out partying with Mark earlier that night. She
wanted to ask to see his med school diploma. Instead she asked what "moderate severity"
meant, and nodded politely at the opaque answer. She asked about "lucky," and the
trauma doctor explained: "Lucky to be alive."

Firemen had cut him out of his cab with an acetylene torch. He might have lain there all
night, coffined against the windshield, freezing and bleeding to death, just off the
shoulder of the country road, except for the anonymous call from a gas station on the
edge of town.

They let her into the unit to see him. A nurse tried to prepare her, but Karin heard
nothing. She stood in front of a nest of cables and monitors. On the bed lay a lump of
white wrapping. A face cradled inside the tangle of tubes, swollen and rainbowed, coated
in abrasions. His bloody lips and cheeks were flecked with embedded gravel. The matted
hair gave way to a patch of bare skull sprouting wires. The forehead had been pressed to
a hot grill. In a flimsy robin's-egg gown, her brother struggled to inhale.

She heard herself call him, from a distance. "Mark?" The eyes opened at the sound, like
the hard plastic eyes of her girlhood dolls. Nothing moved, not even his eyelids. Nothing,
until his mouth pumped, without sound. She leaned down into the equipment. Air hissed
through his lips, above the hum of the monitors. Wind through a field of ready wheat.

His face knew her. But nothing came out of his mouth except a trickle of saliva. His eyes
pleaded, terrified. He needed something from her, life or death. "It's okay; I'm here," she
said. But assurance only made him worse. She was exciting him, exactly what the nurses
had forbidden. She looked away, anywhere but at his animal eyes. The room burned into
her memory: the drawn curtain, the two racks of threatening electronic equipment, the
lime sherbet-colored wall, the rolling table alongside his bed.

She tried again. "Markie, it's Karin. You're going to be all right." Saying it made a kind
of truth. A groan escaped his sealed mouth. His hand, stuck with an IV tube, reached up
and grabbed her wrist. His aim stunned her. The grip was feeble but deadly, drawing her
down into the mesh of tubes. His fingers feathered at her, frantic, as if, in this split
second, she might still keep his truck from wiping out.

The nurse made her leave. Karin Schluter sat in the trauma waiting room, a glass
terrarium at the end of a long corridor smelling of antiseptics, dread, and ancient health
magazines. Rows of head-bowed farmers and their wives, in dark sweatshirts and
overalls, sat in the squared-off, padded apricot chairs alongside her. She figured them:
Father heart attack; husband hunting accident; child overdose. Off in the corner, a muted
television beamed images of a mountain wasteland scattered with guerrillas. Afghanistan,
winter, 2002. After a while, she noticed a thread of blood wicking down her right index
finger, where she'd bitten through her cuticle. She found herself rising and drifting to the
restroom, where she vomited.

Later, she ate, something warm and sticky from the hospital cafeteria. At one point, she
stood in one of those half-finished stairwells of poured concrete meant to be seen only
when the building was on fire, calling back to Sioux City, the massive computer and
home electronics company where she worked in consumer relations. She stood smoothing
her rumpled bouclé skirt as if her supervisor could see her over the line. 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.

Back in the waiting room, she witnessed eight middle-aged men in flannel standing in a
ring, their slow eyes scanning the floor. A murmur issued from them, wind teasing the
lonely screens of a farmhouse. The sound rose and fell in waves. It took her a moment to
realize: a prayer circle, for another victim who'd come in just after Mark. A makeshift
Pentecostal service, covering anything that scal-pels, drugs, and lasers couldn't. The gift
of tongues descended on the circle of men, like small talk at a family reunion. Home was
the place you never escape, even in nightmare.

Stable. Lucky. The words got Karin through to midday. But when the trauma doctor next
talked to her, the words had become cerebral edema. Something had spiked the pressure
inside her brother's skull. Nurses tried cooling his body. The doctor mentioned a
ventilator and ventricular drain. Luck and stability were gone.

When they let her see Mark again, she no longer knew him. The person they took her to
the second time lay comatose, his face collapsed into some stranger's. His eyes wouldn't
open when she called his name. His arms hung still, even when she squeezed them.

Hospital personnel came to talk to her. They spoke to her as if she were brain-damaged.
She pumped them for information. Mark's blood alcohol content had been just under the
Nebraska limit-three or four beers in the hours before rolling his truck. Nothing else
noticeable in his system. His truck was destroyed.

Two policemen took her aside in the corridor and asked her questions. She answered
what she knew, which was nothing. An hour later, she wondered if she'd imagined the
conversation. Late that afternoon, a man of fifty in a blue work shirt sat down next to her
where she waited. She managed to turn and blink. Not possible, not even in this town: hit
on, in the trauma-unit waiting room.

"You should get a lawyer," the man said.

She blinked again and shook her head. Sleep deprivation.

"You're with the fellow who rolled his truck? Read about him in the Telegraph. You
should definitely get a lawyer."

Her head would not stop shaking. "Are you one?"

The man jerked back. "Good God, no. Just neighborly advice."

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 players
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. But still presentable, given
everything.

"There has been some reversal," the doctor explained. He spoke in B waves and
millimeters of mercury, lobes and ventricles and hematomas. Karin finally understood.
Mark would need surgery.

They slit his throat and put a bolt into his skull. The nurses stopped answering Karin's
questions. Hours later, in her best consumer-relations voice, she asked again to see him.
They said he was too weakened by the procedures. The nurses offered to get something
for her, and Karin only slowly realized they meant medication.

"Oh, no thanks," she said. "I'm good."

"Go home for a while," the trauma doctor advised. "Doctor's orders. You need some
rest."

"Other people are sleeping on the floor of the waiting room. I can get a sleeping bag and
be right back."

"There's nothing you can do right now," the doctor claimed. But that couldn't be; not in
the world she came from.

She promised to go rest if they let her see Mark, just for a moment. They did. His eyes
were still closed, and he responded to nothing.

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.

I am No One
but Tonight on North Line Road
GOD led me to you
so You could Live
and bring back someone else.

A flock of birds, each one burning. Stars swoop down to bullets. Hot red specks take
flesh, nest there, a body part, part body.

Lasts forever: no change to measure.

Flock of fiery cinders. When gray pain of them thins, then always water. Flattest width so
slow it fails as liquid. Nothing in the end but flow. Nextless stream, lowest thing above
knowing. A thing itself the cold and so can't feel it.

Body flat water, falling an inch a mile. Torso long as the world. Frozen run all the way
from open to close. Great oxbows, age bends, lazy delayed S, switch current to still as
long as possible the one long drop it already finishes.

Not even river, not even wet brown slow west, no now or then except in now and then
rising. Face forcing up into soundless scream. White column, lit in a river of light. Then
pure terror, pealing into air, flipping and falling, anything but hit target.

One sound gets not a word but still says: come. Come with. Try death.

At last only water. Flat water spreading to its level. Water that is nothing but into nothing
falls.

(Continues...)





Excerpted from The Echo Maker
by Richard Powers
Copyright © 2006 by Richard Powers.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about The Echo Maker are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach The Echo Maker.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    The Echo Maker-Maggie

    The Echo Maker is a National Book Award winner written by Richard Powers.
    Set in the rural community of Kearney, Nebraska, the book centers around
    Mark Schulter, a young man who got in a nearly fatal car accident along
    the rural roads of Kearney. Mark's sister, and only relative left, Karin
    Schulter, leaves her life to take care of Mark. But something is amiss,
    as once Mark finally wakes up from his coma, he does not believe Karin is
    his sister, even though she looks, acts, and talks the same as his
    sister. With Karin emotionally unraveling, she reaches out to a top
    doctor in the field, Dr. Gerald Weber, to help bring her brother back
    from Capgras Syndrome and figure out what happened the night of his
    accident. The book is a mystery, beginning with the tire marks left
    around Mark's vehicle at the unlikely accident he had on the extremely
    straight road he had driven numerous times before. The mystery is
    further developed by a note that appears at Mark's hospital table,
    proving someone else was at the accident. The note reads:
    "I am No One
    but Tonight on North Line Road
    GOD led me to you
    so You could Live
    and bring back someone else."
    The book is set up so that the reader has the point-of-view of multiple
    characters, though only at certain times of the story. I enjoyed reading
    the book in this style because, as a reader, it was interesting to know
    what all the characters thought and especially so following Mark and his
    struggle with Capgras and the way Powers chooses to show Mark's mind
    working in the story. Through Mark's point-of-view, the audience got to
    hear all the funny names he comes up with for the impostor he believes is
    trying to impersonate his sister: "Karbon Karin," "Kopy Karin," "Second
    Karin," and "Psuedo Karin." It was also enjoyable to have the character
    development built up little by little as you learn more from each time
    their point-of-view is given.
    Though a good book, it may have gotten a bit long and boring in the
    middle. Spanning over one year's time, the book is slow to unfold the
    mysteries behind the night of the accident until approximately the last
    50 pages, where the pieces are put together too quickly compared to the
    long build-up.
    One of the main themes Powers centers much of the book around is the
    struggle in finding identity. This is something nearly all of the
    characters go through, from Karin's questioning of her belief in the idea
    that "people like people who make them feel secure" to Mark's struggle in
    determining who he was before the accident. By having such a wide
    variety of characters affected by the same crisis, Powers proves to the
    audience that finding one's identity is no simple issue and not one that
    is solved necessarily by a certain age.
    This book continues to come back to references with psychology and birds.
    The bird parts were not something I particularly liked reading about,
    but they serve as a way to show how, though humans are so different from
    them now, they came from the same background we did. This and other
    psychological concepts from the book explore the influence the brain has
    on us as the characters try to figure out how Mark got to where he is.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2008

    Accessibility

    This is the most accessible Powers novel to date, but that does not mean it is for the casual reader. His use of the Nebraskan plains and subtleties of character cadence sink under your skin. The eerie mystery of Mark's death is also suspenseful enough to keep you hooked until the ending. The Echo Maker is mostly a statement about changing individual identity under the burdensome atmosphere of a post 911 America. Though more thematically subtle than in his other novels, it's certainly a looming presence, the way it is in our real lives.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    Unsatisfying

    First off, I realize that there are numerous recognitions for this book. However, I found it a bit tedious to finish. The unfolding of the characters was a bit long and when finished, I felt that it wasn't too interesting. I actally found the brilliant, detailed descriptions of migratory birds to be the highlight of the book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2013

    Not worth your time.

    Being from the Kearney NE area I was excited to read this book with the setting in Kearney. I had a lot of trouble staying with this book. It was confusing at times and really could have been written in 200 pages instead of 400. The plot was interesting but I could never recommend this book to anyone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2011

    Haven't Read it Yet- I have a question

    Does anyone know this book's lexile?? I cannot find it anywhere on the internet, and it is not listed on this page. Please help if you know!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    Disappointed

    Sorry, but I thought this book was a real struggle. There are some interesting things to learn about the brain but the plot could have been done in half the page quantity and was predictable. The characters were annoying so it was difficult to sit through page after page of them arguing and whining.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A challenging read

    This is a novel by a wonderful author; this is the first book I have read by Powers. It does take serious concentration at times and the book was perhaps a tad too long. I did enjoy the topic and the setting. I must say it is a very unique novel. Powers is a gifted, serious writer.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2009

    The vagaries of our everyday consciousness

    A remarkable novel in which a main character suffers an automobile accident, after which he thinks familiar people are in fact someone different. Among the specialists treating him is an Oliver Sachs-like popularizer who wonders whether his case histories transgress an ethical border of more use to him than the people described. A subplot describes the danger posed by developers to the ancient flocks of migrating birds using meadows prominent in the countryside. A long novel of beautiful prose and challenging ideas.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 12, 2009

    The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

    This book has a very original plot, but some of the characters could have been more endearing. The writing is mostly laid-back but it picks up the closer we get to the end, where the writing feels almost feverishly fast. I like it but I'm not going to keep it in my permanent library.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 16, 2009

    Brilliant and absorbing.

    THis brilliant book stays with you long after you put it down. It is fascinating just from a scientific point of view but when you add the literary element is becomes really special. I could not recommend this book enough for those who appreciate literature.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2007

    A reviewer

    The story line of a sister and her psychologically injured brother was lost in the psycho-babble of one character, and the bird-babble of another. For those that are interested in such things, I can imagine the book would be a home run. And, my compliments to the author for weaving together such complex themes into one book - it actually worked. But in the end, the book took too much effort to be enjoyable to the casual reader.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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