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The Echo Maker Powers, Richard ( Author ) Aug-21-2007 Paperback (Anglais) Broché – 21 août 2007
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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 Also at least some of the information about Sandhill Cranes, an important part of the plot, was either out of date or misinformed.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.
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. And we become awed voyeurs as masses of majestic, migrating cranes rest stop on the fading river near small town Kearney from Valentine's Day until about St. Patrick's. All play important roles in the measured, dense unwinding of THE ECHO MAKER.
Also at the heart and soul of the plot is a mysterious, nearly mystical message in a spidery scrawl Karin finds by Mark's hospital bed that begins "I am No One" and continues "GOD led me to you / so You could Live...." Who wrote it? Was it someone who saw the accident and can tell Mark why he swerved off the road? Does it transmit some transcendent meaning to and for the characters?
Having read Richard Powers' PLOWING THE DARK, I'm familiar with his techniques of welding at-first-glance-unrelated subjects together. THE ECHO MAKER achieves an amalgamation earlier and with more impressive effect. Nevertheless, after both books, I felt emotionally distanced. It is as if the author's cerebral strivings smother other potential gifts to the reader. There is an arty unreality to some of the conversations and situations in ECHO: for example, the "cute" shorthand between Weber and his wife can be cloying and patience-testing (although, overall I did enjoy their marital bond). Furthermore, Power's language leans to the pretentious and flirts with narrative hyperventilation in places.
In THE ECHO MAKER, the basic plot, somewhat on the lean side for a book of 451 pages, is elaborated by educational information about cranes, myriad cognitive disorders, water politics, and the stream of self-absorbed intuitions of the main characters (who aren't particularly sympathetic individuals). While the leisurely pace of the characters' self-discovery and the plethora of technical and natural detail can be attributed to thoroughness of exploration, less might have been more. Smart, layered, skillfully subtle novels deserve wider readership. But they often don't gain that wider audience...perhaps because authors write 450 pages where fewer could suffice.
This novel is, at its heart, a study of consciousness: its determinants as defined by the scientific community; the suffering caused when its "normal" template is cracked or irreparably shattered by biological change; how any of us might, through mid-life crisis or other personal shakeup, face psychological realignment of our precious "selves." The novel also reminds us that the human race, as the earthly species with dominant brains/minds, is running out of the luxury of time to make decisions that will either cooperate with or decimate our environment and fellow living creatures. And we are reminded that even if the mind is a product of the brain, life is a wonder. As one character puts it, "Everything dances."
Yes, this is a exhaustive and magniloquent volume. It is also an unusual, intellectually invigorating novel, and a very worthy endeavor. Please give it a go.