Friday, February 02, 2007

Book Review: The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker *Click here to request this book* The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers

[Fiction] I gave up on this National Book Award-winning book approximately halfway through its 451 pages. Mark is a young Nebraskan hick, who flips over his pick-up truck on a deserted road one night. The circumstances of the accident remain unclear, but Mark ends up badly battered and in a coma. His older sister, Karin, arrives shortly thereafter to be his nursemaid. When Mark wakes up, he suffers from disturbing delusions-- that his sister, for instance, is not really his sister, but some other random individual who conspirators have quietly inserted into his life to pose as his sister. Obviously, since Karin has quit her job to move back out to Nebraska to take care of Mark (both of their parents are dead) she is rather chagrined by Mark's delusions, especially since they only seem to apply to the things that are closest to him-- i.e., Karin, his house, and his dog. Eventually, a cognitive neurologist, Gerald Weber (who is a fictional person, though borrowed a little too obviously from the real-life Oliver Sacks), is called in to investigate Mark's case. He accomplishes essentially nothing besides giving a name to Mark's delusion (Capgras syndrome), and then goes back home. Karin is left to take care of Mark. She still doesn't know what caused his accident, although she suspects it has something to do with Mark's hooligan friends. This is when I stopped reading. I realized I could not stand a single character in the book, and that was why it was taking me so long to finish. All the characters were flat, almost caricatures of themselves, bearing only one or two pertinent and irritating characteristics. After the accident, Mark's personality is of course intolerable, but he is described before the accident as an aimless, immature, and arrogant guy, who worked as a mechanic in a slaughterhouse, was obsessed with his pickup truck, and still had cheesecake posters of girls on his wall, despite being in his late 20's. Karin, on the other hand, is pale and bland both inside and out, working as a soulless office drone at her job in another state. She seemed not to have had a life outside of work, and when she returns to Nebraska, she rather lazily takes up with an old boyfriend from high school (now a sensitive ornithologist), we presume mostly because he makes her feel better about herself and also, conveniently, provides her with a place to live. The neurologist is distracted and somewhat arrogant, and halfway through the book you still have no idea why he was introduced (and then removed from the plot). So, after it sat in my nightstand half-finished for about a month, I made the decision to just give up. I guess I never will know the "truth of [what happened] that evening" and how it "will change the lives of all three [characters] beyond recognition," nor, I suppose, will I be privy to why exactly Powers won the National Book Award. -Vicky

No comments: