Identity, consciousness and memory are the subjects of the compelling new work by esteemed novelist Richard Powers. In The Echo Maker, he has produced an intricately crafted tale that poses challenging questions about the extent to which we can ever fully grasp the reality of our own existence and that of the people who surround us.
When Mark Schluter flips his pickup truck on an isolated stretch of Nebraska highway, his sister Karin abandons her life and rushes to his bedside. The circumstances of the accident are puzzling, made even more so when she discovers a cryptic note about it in her brother's hospital room. But Karin is in for the most profound shock when Mark awakens from his coma firmly convinced an imposter has taken her place. He's diagnosed with Capgras syndrome, a form of misidentification delusion only rarely induced by head trauma. Karin's search for a cure leads her to Gerald Weber, a cognitive neurologist who's well known for popularizing his field in best-selling books containing accounts of bizarre neurological disorders. Unfortunately for Weber, the critics have savaged his latest work, making the doctor himself feel like an imposter, and as he gropes toward a solution for Mark's worsening delusions, he must wrestle with his own psychological demons.
Into this complex tale, Powers skillfully layers another plotline describing the fight to protect the migratory habitat of the sandhill cranes that stop on the Platte River on their way north each spring. In the battle waged by environmental activists and commercial developers over water rights, Karin finds herself caught between two men, adversaries in that confrontation, struggling to discern where her true loyalties lie.
Whether he's plumbing the depths of his characters' interior lives or describing the harsh Nebraska landscape, Powers' writing is rich and evocative, and thoughtful readers will find themselves pausing to savor many well-crafted sentences. In The Echo Maker he's applied his considerable gifts to chart a fascinating journey through the terrain of the human mind.
Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.