Modern Lit: The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers

3.0 out of 5 stars Overwrought and overlong

Psychology is my chosen profession, so I find meta-cognition fascinating. The brain studying itself, thinking about thinking, is such a curious concept in itself. Therefore, I expected to truly enjoy The Echo Maker, but that was not the case. Thirty something Karen is something of a lost soul, her only real accomplishment having been her escape from her stifling home town. She rushes back, ignoring her own misgivings, to help her brother recover from a debilitating accident. Mark, at age 27, is locked in adolescence, and as he claws his way back to life and independent functioning, his most disturbing loss is his inability to recognize Karen as his sister. As time passes, Mark develops paranoia, and in desperation, Karen calls in an internationally renowned neurologist, Dr. Weber.

So far so good. But as the story progresses, at a snail’s pace, it also bogs down. Although Mark seems capable of accepting his new status, his sister fails to adapt, remaining helplessly devoted to restoring their former relationship. In the process, she rekindles two former romances, making a series of dubious, self destructive choices. Assessing Mark has caused the arrogant Dr. Weber to reassess his own career motives, and when he meets Mark’s aide, becomes obsessed with her seemingly wondrous ability to connect with Mark. Mistaking his feelings with love (transference?), he allows it to interfere with the stability of his heretofore happy marriage.

At heart, The Echo Maker is about crises of identity and the nature of perception.  This novel is nicely written. There’s just too much of it. Too much angst, too much rumination, too many pages. A secondary theme, an ecological one, is lost in the continuous shuffling. By the halfway point, the characters become more irritating than sympathetic. With judicious editing, such as the elimination of Weber’s countless case studies, its readability could be vastly improved.

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