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The Echo Maker    by Richard Powers order for
Echo Maker
by Richard Powers
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

The Echo Maker is a fascinating study of how ordinary people cope with a strange illness called Capgras syndrome. Mark Schluter, a 28-year-old mechanic, survives a terrible accident one cold night that leaves him hanging upside down by his seatbelt in his overturned truck out in the middle of nowhere in the Nebraska countryside. Conscious when he's first rescued, he quickly slips into a coma, and when he finally regains consciousness, he believes that his sister Karen is a cleverly disguised imposter.

Karen has left her job and home in Sioux City to come back to her childhood hometown of Kearney to be with Mark and help him recover. She is shocked and saddened by his constant denouncements of her authenticity. As if not being recognized isn't bad enough, Mark frequently worries out loud to her about his real sister and what could have happened to her that she hasn't come.

As Mark slowly improves and Karen struggles to help him and keep her own sanity, a subplot involving water rights and migrating sandhill cranes is introduced with beautiful descriptions of the cranes and the Nebraska wetlands that they return to twice a year. Native Americans called the cranes echo makers because when they gather on their great migrations their calls carry for miles. But an echo is a doubling of a sound, and Mark's damaged brain doubles people and things that he was close to before his accident. He calls his sister Kopy Karen and his dog Blackie II because they just don't seem authentic to him. Mark can't remember what happened the night of the accident, and he believes that finding out the truth will clear up his problem of why he's suddenly surrounded by a fake sister, dog, and friends.

This is a complex, beautifully written book. Mark, Karen, the neuropsychologist who tries to help, and the others who care about Mark, are ordinary people trying to understand and deal with a situation that is frequently bizarre. All of them are changed by the experience, and Karen even begins to question her own reality. The cranes come and go, signalling the changing of the seasons and the beauty and fragility of all nature.

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