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.
|Edition description:||First Edition, First Edition|
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About 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.
Date of Birth:June 18, 1957
Place of Birth:Evanston, Illinois
Education:M.A., University of Illinois, 1979
Read an Excerpt
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 nervous birds, 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 frompterodactyls. 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.
Excerpted from The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. Copyright © 2006 by Richard Powers. Published in October 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
ContentsPart One: I Am No One,
Part Two: But Tonight on North Line Road,
Part Three: God Led Me To You,
Part Four: So You Might Live,
Part Five: And Bring Back Someone Else,
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.
1. What echoes do the cranes create throughout the novel? What do the cranes signify to those who admire themtourists, environmentalists, local residents along the Platte River? What parallels exist between the echo of the migrating birds and the echoes lurking in Mark's shattered memry?
2. How would you characterize the sibling dynamics between Mark and Karin? How much of their former relationship remains intact after his accident? Would you have sacrificed as much as Karin did to help an injured brother or sister?
3. What is Bonnie's stake in helping Mark heal? Is her perception of the world distorted, like Mark's, or is she actually his best chance for returning to rational thinking? How does she cope with Dr. Weber's assertion that faith in God has a neurological component?
4. Discuss the Nebraska landscape as if it were a character in the novel. What makes it alluring as well as daunting? In what way does the region's "personality" mirror that of its inhabitants?
5. Which segments of Mark and Karin's childhood do they most want to recall? Which memories of their parents continue to hurt them? Is either sibling on a path, perhaps even unwittingly, of carrying on their parents' legacies?
6. What contemporary environmental concerns are reflected in the showdown over the Central Platte Scenic Natural Outpost? Is Daniel equally zealous about his relationship with Karin?
7. Were you suspicious of Barbara in the novel's early chapters? How did your perception of her shift? How would you have responded if you had been in her position on the night of the accident?
8. In part three, Karin tells Daniel she thinks Mark might have been better off if she had stayed away. How can we know the difference between selfless and self-serving caregiving? In the end, was Karin right to remain in Mark's life to such an intense extent?
9. What aspects of body, soul, and memory are presented in the epigraphs appearing throughout the book? Taken by themselves, do these quotations underscore or contradict each other?
10. In what ways did Gerald take on a fatherly role for Karin and Mark? Was their perception of him any more accurate than that of the fans who attended his lectures or saw him on television? What aspects of his true self was Gerald able to reclaim in Nebraska? What do you predict for his future with Sylvie and Jess?
11. From the friends who figure prominently in his life, particularly Duane Cain and Tom Rupp, and the figures who represent fear (such as Robert Karsh) what picture of Mark's past were you able to piece together? What is the best way to discern the truth when memories clash?
12. Did Capgras syndrome make any aspects of Mark's perception crystal clear or even closer to reality than his caregivers' view of life? What universal experiences are reflected in his inability to accept the identity of someone who loves him, or, near the end, to acknowledge that he is fully alive?
13. How did you ultimately interpret the note? For each of the main characters, what did it mean to be no one? In the end, who else was brought back?
14. What does Karin have to discover about the mind's ability to shape memories? How does her understanding of her past change throughout Mark's illness?
15. In what ways does The Echo Maker enhance themes in previous novels by Richard Powers you have read? What is unique about his approach to topics as far-ranging as science and history, deception and devotion?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
Fascinating connection between neurology and one's sense of self all conveyed in a narrative that totally engages one. Does Capgras syndrome, the delusion that people in one's life are doubles or imposters, actually exist?
Meh. I read this for a personal book group, and only the meeting deadline kept me reading.I was intrigued with the effects Mark, a twenty-something who rolls his truck late one night, resulting in severe brain trauma, suffers from his accident, and how it affects his relationship with his only surviving relative, his older sister Karen. Mark's trauma results in Capgras syndrome, wherein the sufferer believes that his loved ones have been replaced by copies, so Mark spends most of the book demanding that Karen find his "real" sister and stop playing the role. This, of course, is very difficult for Karen, as she's given up her job and apartment to move back to her hated hometown to care for Mark. In desperation, Karen writes to a famous neurologist, writer of several books about brain trauma, and soon Dr. Weber arrives to see what he can learn from Mark's condition.The books switches between Mark's, Karen's and Dr. Weber's points of view, and while there were parts that intrigued me - pretty much any time Weber speaks of or remembers specific patients and the ways in which their traumas manifested - many parts either went over my head (anytime Weber began neurological specifics) or bored me (anytime the author began describing - at mind-numbing length - the cranes for which Karen and Mark's hometown is famous).This is one of those books for which the author is clearly trying to be symbolic, and whenever I get that impression, I become resentful and impatient, as I never seem to "get it." And I *really* dislike books that make me feel dumb... : )
At times this book fascinated me as a psychological/psychiatric mystery, along the lines of Oliver Sachs' "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat", and when engrossed in those passages I couldn't put the book down. And then, Powers bogged everything down with the cranes and the dynamics of Weber's marriage and Karin's emerging doubts about her own identity, and I wanted to scream "get on with it!!!" While I did finish the book, it was only by speed-reading the final hundred or so pages to confirm my suspicions about who the mystery "Guardian" truly was. Disappointed to say that I sort of had it figured out, and was hoping for a conclusion more stunningly challenging. Others have complained about the lack of character development, and I have to agree - the characters are either stereotypical (as with Daniel the environmentalist) or merely there as props for plot advancement (Karsh, Barbara, et al). With those caveats, it was still an interesting read along the way, especially in the discussions of brain fractionalization. Recommended, with caution.
I empathize greatly with the character of Dr. Weber - who realizes the fragility of the elaborate web of knowledge and learning that the has constructed in his career as a scientist. Powers has Weber ask and then explore some searching questions: "How does a brain erect a mind, and how does am ind erect everything else? Do we have free will? What is the self, and where are the neurological correlates of consciousness?" I believe these questions are at the heart of The Echomaker - and of Richard Powers. As Weber says later in the book: "It is only when I tell you things that I understand them myself." I would stronly recommend this book, it is the best I have read from Richard Powers since The Goldbug Variations.
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers explores the fragility of the self. What makes us who we are? Are the people we love really who we thing they are? The novel opens with a traffic accident. Mark Schluter suffers serious head trauma as a result of flipping his truck over on a lonely stretch of Iowa road one night. His sister Karin leaves her job and condo in Sioux City to stay by his side in their small home town of Kearny, the town Karin always wanted to leave. Karin and Mark are basically alone in the world; their parents have both died and neither has anyone close enough to them to come spend time at Mark's bedside. Eventually, Mark does come out of his coma and speaks. Almost immediately he accuses Karin of not being his sister, but an imposter. He is convinced that although she looks like her and she knows everything his sister knows, she is not Karin. In desperation, Karin writes a series of emails to Dr. Gerald Weber a famous cognitive neurologist who has written several popular books about people with unusual brain injuries to ask for help. (I suspect Dr. Weber is loosely based on Dr. Oliver Sacks.) Dr. Weber agrees to pay Mark a visit thinking he may be able to use this story in a future book. His diagnosis--Mark has Capgras syndrome, a condition that causes people to reject what the logical part of their brains tell them, that a person is really their sister, in favor of an irrational gut feeling that the people around them are not whom they seem to be. Karin¿s position is tragically difficult. She has spent her life trying to please others. She loses herself in repeated attempts to always make those nearest her happy: bosses, friends, co-workers, boyfriends, her brother. In Sioux City, she found a perfect job in customer relations, trying to make others happy for a living. Her relationship with Mark has not been great, but the two of them were always devoted to each other. After Mark denies her, he begins to describe what his real sister is like. Karin listens to him describe a person who is better than she really is. Mark¿s ¿sister¿ is actually an improvement over Karin. A brother who constantly insists you are not his real sister would probably cause anyone to have doubts about who they really are, but Karin¿s situation is further complicated by her return to their childhood hometown, where she meets up with both of her old boyfriends, one a conservationist trying to protect the cranes that migrate through the area, the other a developer who wants to build on the cranes nesting grounds. Karin habitually tries to please both, altering what she really wants to fit the situation to the point that she often loses sight of herself.Mark himself, once he wakes from the coma, is not who he used to be at all. Outside of Capgras syndrome, the post accident Mark is kinder, more reflective, more mature, a definite improvement. So much so, that later in the novel when a cure becomes possible Karin hesitates to approve its use. Mark is haunted by a figure in white that he believes appeared before his truck the night of the accident and by a note that someone left at his beside afterwards claiming to be an angel sent by God to save him and charging him to go out and save someone else. But so much of Mark¿s world is now alien to him. His sister is not really his sister, his best friends are not really his best friends, even his dog and his home have been switched with imposters. Why would anyone go to all this trouble? What do they want with him? Who left the note and did an angel really appear to him that night? Dr. Weber comes to Iowa to see Mark just before his new book is set to release. He sees himself as a famous author, popular lecturer, important researcher who has brought the complexities of the human brain to a public eager for knowledge. Just before his book is released, a series of negative reviews begin. They claim that Dr. Weber¿s case studies are outdated, his stories have no place in the new world of chemical based
Wow, one of the best books I've read
This is a magnificent novel by one of America's greatest writers.
After Mark Schluter is a terrible truck accident, his sister Karin comes to take care of him. Mark, however, thinks that Karin is an imposter along with his dog and his home. The accident caused a traumatic head injury where he believes the things truly important are imposters. While I am very interested in psychology and how the mind works, I had a very hard time getting through this book and following the story. While parts of it were very interesting, for the most part it was a stuggle to finish this book.
This book actually had a mystery in it, but I couldn't get past the long drawn out prose to really enjoy it.
Very unusual sotry of a young man from Nebraska that experienced a rare kind of brain injury and the life of the 56-year old psyhciatrist that treats him. Meanders along and yet kept my attention.
In "The Echo Maker" Richard Powers gives us an encylopedic recap of neurological pathologies, and a fraught scientific debate about the current state of neurology.This book portrays accident victim Mark Schluter and his grappling with Capgras Syndrome, the inability to recognize one's loved ones - and the resulting assumption that persons close to you are impostors. Gerald Weber, MD, the cognitive neurologist and popular author, takes time out from his busy book-promotion tour to visit, but why? Is it merely to exploit Mark for his new book? Or does this unique case present a scientific opportunity to further research the illness? Or maybe it's because he finds Mark's sister Karin's pleading for help too appealing to turn down. Whatever the reason, Dr. Weber's visit coincides with a precipitous drop in his popular reputation, and a frightening downward slide in which he begins to diagnose numerous neuropathologies in himself.Powers's gift lies in his erudition. He succeeds in personalizing quite a bit of current neurology for the reader, but his narrative thread frays at the end. I didn't quite credit Dr. Weber's breakdown, and am still confused about the character who poses as a nurse's aide throughout. What in the world is her motivation? The sandhill crane migration, and the environmental politics surround it, serve as a background, and a highly poetic one at times, but is there more to it than - these birds are simply a good example of focused and useful consciousness? The story's greatest success lies in elucidating the shifting and fragile nature of human consciousness and memory. Otherwise, this book is overlong, particularly as regards Dr. Weber, whose deterioration I found quite forced.
This novel, the winner of the 2006 National Book Award, addresses the question of how we know who we really are. This novel is extremely well-crafted and a worthwhile read. Intelligent and entertaining.
Very creative. Not an easy read but it was worth the effort. I can see how this book would appeal to those that hand out awards. It has the lofty tone, but ultimately it takes an effort.
The Echo Maker is another great book by one of the best, smartest authors writing today. Powers explores what it means to be human, to have a self, through the lens of neurology. If there is any fault in this book, it is that Powers can become too technical as he delves into the discoveries that brain researchers have made in the last quarter century. Nevertheless, the mystery surrounding a character who comes away from an auto accident with the rare disease, Capgras syndrome, drives the plot and the exploration of the central characters who are affected by his accident. The vision that Powers leaves us with is not one of the transcendence of humanity, but rather of the tenuous connection we have to our planet, to each other, and even to ourselves.
In a theory class I took my senior year in college, I was assigned to write a paper on Derrida. I don't remember what the purpose of the assignment was exactly, but I do remember that I was getting burned out on my senior thesis and that I didn't feel like really getting into it with Derrida at that moment. So I decided to write my paper in the style of the particular book in question. Who knows whether my premise was any good (I doubt it), but I sure enjoyed the hell out of Derrida-ing Derrida. This episode came to mind while I was reading "The Echo Maker." Powers seems to have forsaken some of the more enjoyable and comprehensible aspects of The Novel in order to use the narrative and the text itself as a showcase for failures in cognition. In short: interesting but crazy-making.
One of the weaker of Richard Powers' recent fictions--a slow-moving plot linked to less-than-fascinating ideas about consciousness and reality, celebrity and family, and as usual a host of other issues. Still, Powers is one of the best American novelists of his generation, so even some of the individual sentences are worth the price of the book.
When Mark Schulter has a near-fatal car accident, his sister comes home to take care of him. Family secrets, old loves and Mark's recovery changes all their lives. It's very detailed and confusing but also deeply insightful about one family in one small town. It was worth the time and reflection to read this book.
I didn't like this book and don't recommend it.It had some redeeming value in weaving in the story of crane migration through Nebraska, and in the character sketches ... but it was way too long, the brain conditions were technical and then somewhat clumsily symbolized in the 'normal' characters, and the mystery was really silly, with a poor ending.Quotes:On dogs:"That's the thing about dogs. There isn't a human being in the world worthy of any dog's welcome."On democracy:"Democracy flailed on, the most cumbersome form of deciding known to man. Breath-powered sailboat. Every village eccentric and homeless aluminum-can collector had his say. How could so blind a process ever reach a right decision?"On nature:"Something sat in the branch, small, flecked with yellow, and as jittery as she felt. No name she knew. Names would only have obliterated the thing. The nameless bird opened its throat, and out came the wildest music. It sang senselessly, sure that she could follow. All around answers sprang up - the cottonwood and the Platte, the March breeze and rabbits in the undergrowth, something downstream slapping the water in alarm, secrets and rumors, news and negotiation, all of the interlocked life talking at once. The clicks and cries came from everywhere and ended nowhere, making no judgment and promising nothing, just multiplying one another, filling the air like the river its bed. Nothing at all was her, and for the first time since Mark's accident, she felt free of herself, a release bordering on bliss."
American author Richard Powers explores the ideas of mind, soul and self in this prize-winning novel. Mark Schluter suffers a near-fatal car crash one cold night and awakes unable to recognise his only sister, Karen. In fact, he believes that Karen is a doppelganger of the version he has in his memories. He is diagnosed as suffering from the extremely rare disorder known as Capgras Syndrome. Over the course of the novel his paranoia develops even further.Karen, who has given up her house and job to come take care of her brother, is deeply hurt by his inability to acknowledge her as his sister, contacts famous popular author and neurologist Gerald Weber.Weber's character and his battle with his demons add a further strand to this deftly woven novel. After a series of well-received popular science books, he now faces some critical rejection and struggles to deal with it. Each character is suffering through their own mental problems and this allows the book to expand and examine the nature of memory, reality and identity. Add in the mystery character of Barbara, who fights her own demons, which are revealed at the end of the book, and we have a host of characters struggling with their own mental problems and issues. Over the course of a year, the author invokes some beautiful imagery as he describes the cyclical journey of the threatened crane. Every year the crane return to the Nebraska town where this novel is set, as they move on their migrational path. Despite the grand scale of this book, and the weighty topics that it tackles (self-identity, memory and love), it somehow fails to ultimately satisfy. It is a demanding read, and we do become more and more involved as Mark struggles to deal with the differences in his memory and to find out what happened to him that cold night. However, there is some spark of emotion missing in the novel that would fully bind you to the characters.
I came to this with fair expectation, having not read anything by Powers before but buoyed by his reputation in general and reviews for this, his latest book in particular. I was really surprised by what I found. First, I¿ve not read a book for a long time where one is so painfully, continually aware of its less than seamless and smooth construction. There is less than a dextrous counterpoint here than an ugly grafting of material, grindingly wrought. Second, the writing itself. The sub Chatwinesque interludes with the journeying cranes is well, just that. The continual regurgitation of everything Powers has read about neurology is as bad and indigestible as Ian McEwan at his most earnest and sanctimonious and the tone of the human interactions feels utterly artificial. Worst by far here is the dialogue between the neurologist, Weber and his wife which is as toe curlingly embarrassing as anything in Grisham or Richard North Patterson. Third, the plot, whose denouement is, shall we say, somewhat contrived. I¿m afraid I am struggling to understand the acclaim.
The structure & pacing show the sure hand of a pro, and he has some interesting ideas on his mind, but the characters are not always believable, and the style is often rather pedestrian.
This is an immensely powerful book! Simply staggering. At the core of this novel is a search for self. Who are we really? Are you who you think you are or are you who others think you are? The 3 main characters are all struggling to find their true self: Mark, a man who received a traumatic head injury in a car accident, his sister, whom he believes is an impostor and the famous neurologist who takes on the case. I found the medical information about the brain and the case histories absolutely fascinating. As a fan of shows such as ER and House, this was right up my alley! I found myself relating to all the main characters and becoming fond of them all in different ways. On top of all this there is a riveting mystery story concerning the cause of the car accident. An extremely satisfying read!
I've been wanting to read The Echo Maker for several reasons. I always like to read novels that are set close to where I grew up--on the prairie in the Colorado/Nebraska/Kansas region. This novel is set in Kearney, Nebraska, where my sister currently lives. I like to read award-winning novels, and The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award. Also, it is one of the books in the New York Times Notable Book Challenge, in which I am participating. Lastly, it concerns Capgras and Cotard's Syndromes, and I have an intense interest in these because I know a person who experienced them.Warning: there may be some minor spoilers below.Mark Schluter has been in a rollover accident and has sustained a severe head injury. As Mark starts to get better, he insists that his sister is an impostor. He also doesn't recognize his dog, Blackie. He begins to think that his home has been duplicated and perhaps the whole community has as well.His sister Karin (Mark calls her Kopy Karin and Karbon Karin) is devastated when he refuses to accept her as his sister, and she calls in a nationally known doctor who has written several popular books on brain disorders. "Shrinky" as Mark calls him, comes to Kearney, runs a few tests, consults with Mark's doctor, and then goes home. Is he truly interested in Mark's case or does he just want another "story" for his new book? Mark does trust "Shrinky," though, as well as his nurse's aide Barbara--two people he did not know before the accident. Much of Mark's time is spent trying to figure out who wrote a mysterious note found on his nightstand in the hospital."I am No Onebut Tonight on North Line RoadGOD led me to youso You could live and bring back someone else."We do find out who wrote the note, how the accident occurred, and if Mark gets well again. Contrary to some bad reviews of the book, I liked how the characters were developed--even if some weren't likable. While I was interested in the various characters' thoughts and feelings, I thought some of it extraneous. I appreciated the setting (of course) and the descriptions of the birds. I didn't like the vulgar language and s*xual content, but I guess that is the norm in a modern novel today.Also, I'm not sure why, when referring to prairie farm people, certain very negative subjects have to always be brought up. The people I know from the area are the most decent in the entire USA, and I'm always sad to see it when they are portrayed with negative qualities that might occur in less than 0.5% of the population of the region.All in all, I'm glad I read the novel because of the reasons I stated in the first paragraph. I'm not sure that most readers would appreciate it, though.
Just stayed up till 2:30 am last night to finish this, so I will say I was hooked. I seem to recall that Powers wasn¿t very good at sympathetic characters. That¿s changed with this novel. He manages to explore consciousness AND tell a story, without coming to any conclusion about the former, nor neglecting the latter. And that makes it a good novel, in my opinion. It makes you think, it makes you feel, and what else can we ask from a book? Powers seems much less caught up in his own cleverness in Echo Maker. I get the feeling he¿s admitting he doesn¿t know it all, after all. One thing I do wonder is, how does Oliver Sacks feel about being a major character in the book? Weird. A very powerful book, it reminds me that mainstream fiction is still worth reading, sometimes¿