Monday, June 02, 2008

30. The Echo Maker

by Richard Powers

I had high hopes for this 2006 National Book Award winner (and 2007 Pulitzer nominee) for fiction. My long-distance book club had originally planned to read this book, then the rest of them changed their minds at the last minute. I think I can see why.

The book is full of outstanding metaphors and lyrical language. The setting is intriguing - in and around Kearney, Nebraska, the point on the Platte River where sandhill cranes (one Native American term for them was "echo makers") rest for a while in late winter during their long migration.

The book covers a period of a little over a year, beginning in late February 2002, and there are references to 9/11 and subsequent events. A young man runs off the road near the cranes and his head injury leads to Capgras syndrome, where he believes his only living relative, his sister, is an imposter. The brain disorders and case studies described by the third major character, a pop neurologist, are fascinating.

However, the plot is rather far-fetched, the ending was a letdown, and I found I didn't care about any of the characters. The sister, Karin, is the complete opposite of Carrie Bell in Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier, in that Karin stays rather than leaves after a debilitating accident to a loved one. Karin gives up her own life to help her brother, despite his frustrating syndrome, and she becomes whiny and annoying. I slogged through the book as it was one being discussed by my online book club; otherwise, I probably would not have finished it.

Google "Echo Maker" and you'll find lots of interesting reviews and discussions of this book from the likes of Margaret Atwood (who draws parallels with The Wizard of Oz). It's certainly a worthwhile addition to my university's collection and would make great fodder for study in a modern American literature class. Perhaps if the book had grabbed me more, I'd be more interested in following some of these discussions.

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