The Echo Maker A Novel

Richard Powers




Trade Paperback

464 Pages



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Winner of the National Book AwardPulitzer Prize FinalistA New York Times Notable Book of the YearA Boston Globe Best Book of the Year A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the YearA Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of the YearLonglisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Set against the Platte River's massive spring migrations—one of the greatest spectacles in nature—The Echo Maker is a mystery that explores the improvised human self and the even more precarious brain that splits us from and joins us to the rest of creation. On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter flips his truck in a near-fatal accident. His older sister Karin, his only near kin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when he emerges from a protracted coma, Mark believes that this woman—who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister—is really an identical impostor. Shattered by her brother’s refusal to recognize her, Karin contacts the cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber, famous for his case histories describing the infinitely bizarre worlds of brain disorder. Weber recognizes Mark as a rare case of Capgras Syndrome—the delusion that people in one's life are doubles or imposters—and eagerly investigates. What he discovers in Mark slowly undermines even his own sense of being. Meanwhile, Mark, armed only with a note let by an anonymous witness, attempts to learn what happened the night of his inexplicable accident. The truth of that evening will change the lives of all three beyond recognition.


Praise for The Echo Maker

"A wise and elegant post-9/11 novel . . . It avoids some of the now familiar features of the genre . . . The Echo Maker is not an elegy for How We Used to Live or a salute to Coming to Grips, but a quiet exploration of how we survive, day to day . . . The Echo Maker joins my Powers favorites through the admirable harmony he achieves between his rhetorical strategies—on the life of the sandhill cranes, on the furrowed dynamism of the brain—and the travails of Mark, Karin and Weber as they try to navigate their altered territories . . . 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."—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review
"Richard Powers has a lot of ideas: complex, articulate, deeply informed ideas about artificial intelligence, virtual reality, relativity, genetics, music and much more  . . . Powers has established himself as one of our most praised as well as one of our most prolific writers of fiction. . . . Powers is not only adept at crafting large-scale narrative and symbolic structures; he is also a remarkably gifted aphorist, a lyrical nature writer and a sharp observer of human situations . . . It is telling that Powers is typically praised for his intellect . . . His capacity to elucidate scientific ideas and speculate about their larger meanings is indeed impressive . . . Powers's feeling for this material is exhilarating, his sense of wonder infectious . . . Powers's characters tend to be paragons, intellectual or ethical, but Mark, in particular, is convincingly imagined, with a fine ear for his verbal and mental rhythms . . . Powers's eye for social detail remains as sharp as ever . . .  The range and magnitude of Powers's talents are not in question . . .  Powers's descriptions . . . are sublime, as is his vision, woven into the novel's metaphorical texture, of the human species as but another evanescent episode in life's vast flow. The cycling of time, the interconnectedness of all living things, the mind-blowing—indeed, mind-creating—magnificence of nature, the obligation to live humbly and responsibly: All of Powers's great themes return here."—William Deresiewicz, The Nation
"A grand novel—grand in its reach, grand in its themes, grand in its 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
"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."—Albert Mobilio, Los Angeles Book Review
“His philosophical musings have the energy of a thriller, and he gives lyrical, haunting life to the landscape of the Great Plains.”The New Yorker

"The Echo Maker is a mystery. But it is a Richard Powers novel, which means the mystery is existential—another brilliant surprise . . . any Powers is better than the best of almost anybody else."—John Leonard, Harper's Magazine

"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. Yet it opens quietly enough, on the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska, where the cranes are preparing for their annual migration . . . This complicated story is masterfully controlled; the pace never slackens; the writing remains direct and clear  . . . By the end of the novel, the narrative stakes have been raised very high . . . [Powers] is a formidable talent, and this is a lucid, fiercely entertaining novel."—Sebastian Faulks, The Washington Post
“Powers proves himself a first-rate stylist whose characters are never caricatures in service of abstract theory. In fact, many of this idea-driven novelist’s characters are unforgettable, flesh-and-blood individuals as finely drawn as those of any contemporary fiction writer.”—Steve Weinberg, The Seattle Times
“Another marvelous journey into the realm that Powers has made his own—self-revelation, self-awareness, self-exploration—and it’s a magical, stylish and compelling trip . . . a graceful, keening, thoroughly engaging book.”—Victoria A. Brownworth, The Baltimore Sun

“Powerful . . . Powers is mesmerizing when he channels his intellectual restlessness into his characters passions . . . When Powers convinces with drama . . . he becomes one of our most masterful writers.”—Charles Oberndorf, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“Powers has fashioned a beautifully unsettling novel, revealing the fragility and uncertainty of the human condition while generating a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world.”—James Schiff, associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, The News and Observer (Raleigh)

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers is an ambitious book with a variety of themes.  The novel succeeds on many levels.”—Chris Stuckenschneider, The Missourian

“Powers’ language is consistently beautiful; it can be alternately emotionally crushing and uplifting.  While Powers presents events from different characters’ points of view, he never sacrifices clarity for experimental pyrotechnics.  In a world where facts are fragile, Powers’ novel demonstrates the redemptive power of fictions.”—Jeffrey Hibbert, The Wichita Eagle

“Seldom has the biochemistry of the living brain been rendered so lyrically or suspensfully.”—Patrick Kurp, The Houston Chronicle

“This is the latest addition to the impressive body of work of one of America’s most celebrated and distinctive novelists. Power is well known for cerebral and challenging investigations into the relationship and dilemmas posed by the insights of ‘hard’ science and technology on human consciousness and behavior. The present volume focuses on the subtle and complex, relationships between emerging knowledge in the field of neuroscience and social paradigms of identity and relationship.”—The Antioch Review

“A rich, complex stew of a novel about our connections in this world, about what actually bonds us to other people.”—Jonathan Miles, Men’s Journal

The Echo Maker is also, in its way, a detective story . . . Power divides the note into five nearly equal phrases that serve as headings for the five sections of the novel . . . The story proceeds to a surprise ending, but the surprise is no gimmick: it really pulls together the complicated philosophical issues that the story has raised. I won’t spoil the reader’s discovery of this feat with any more plot summery. Instead, let me mention one more achievement of this remarkable novel: its masterful variations of style as the viewpoint shifts between Mark and Karin Schluter and Gerald Weber. The narrative is third-person throughout, but it adapts itself to each of its protagonists with the sympathetic recognition that is Power’s central theme.”—Daniel M. Murtaugh, Commonweal
"The theme of cognitive disorder . . . 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 caregiver Barbara 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 once again extends his unparalleled range."—Kirkus Reviews
"Powers has complete command of storytelling skills, building questions of both plot and philosophy so deftly that, in their denouement, there is no surprise, only recognition. A remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it."—Keir Graff, Booklist
"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."—Stephen Morrow, Library Journal
"MacArthur fellow Powers 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."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


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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.
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  • Richard Powers

  • Richard Powers is the author of ten novels, including Generosity, Gain, The Time of Our Singing, Galatea 2.2, and Plowing the Dark. The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Illinois.

  • Richard Powers Jane Kuntz
    Richard Powers




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