Alcornell's Reviews > The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
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's review
Oct 29, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: bookclub, fiction
Read in December, 2009

The premise of the book is grim (results of a head injury of a twenty-something single male creates terrible pain for his deeply loved but unrecognizable sister). His sister's love for him is both painful and redeeming. Every character in the book is flawed, in pain, a survivor.
The Sand Hill cranes are emblematic, actors of the fragility, resilience, timeless biological processes of mind. Mark Schluter and his sister, Karin, are engaging, sad, bitingly funny, bittersweet, painfully unequipped for the history they each carry for the other, or the burden of Mark's injury. Dr. Weber is a sort-of Oliver Sacks character turned on his ear as he becomes one of the cast of characters. The traumatized American character, wounded, changed forever by the events of 9/11 forms a mirror of collective loss of self, trust.
The experiences of the characters are given without an omniscient 3rd party explaining it all to the reader, so the reader shares in their felt experience. Pattern is unveiled through contrasts--as in the normal process of mapping in the cranes seasonal navigations juxtaposed with each character's loss of shared meaning. Loss of memory is portrayed in several motifs in the story, knitting the threads of story together more tightly with each round of Mark's and Karin's searches to learn, understand what happened to each of them.
The author introduces several neurological and delusional disorders, but never uses psychobabble which would intervene in the flow of the plot--in this the pace of the book is like mind itself--keeping us unknowing, but experiencing, reaching to understand.
The mystery at the bottom of the story is compelling, and the telling of the tale in several characters' very different voices kept me interested. Never in a year would I have guessed the twist at the end. Each character undergoes a crucible which demands tolerance, endurance of the unknown in oneself and others. I think more highly of psychotherapy than this writer apparently does, yet I appreciated this book very much. Read it. It's very good.

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