Wednesday, August 11, 2010

THE ECHO MAKER by Richard Powers

I've read some really good books lately, but this one is in a class by itself. Mark Schluter rolls his truck on a dark rural road in Nebraska and barely survives. As he starts to regain his faculties, one major problem remains: he thinks his sister Karin is an imposter. Her anguish drives her to seek out Gerald Weber, a celebrity neurologist/author. Also, Karin finds a mysterious note at Mark's bedside, and Mark becomes obsessed with finding its author. Then there's Barbara, the nurse's aide who bonds with Mark, attracts Weber and has an understanding of things way beyond the realm of her profession. There are several other plot lines surrounding the main Mark/Karin story, but they all feel intertwined and are equally compelling, so that I never felt myself wishing to get back to a different storyline. Weber has issues of his own, as he grapples with his conscience, after his latest book receives reviews accusing him of everything from being merely anecdotal to using other people's brain malfunctions for his own personal gain. Then there's the environmental controversy over the water supply for sandhill cranes who migrate through the area. Most intriguing of all, though, are the various anecdotes that Weber supplies about the various neurological disorders he's encountered and how we're really all at the mercy of the brain's intricate behavior. It doesn't take much of a misfire to render us weirdly incompetent. Our actions and emotions are all ruled by our brains, so that must be where our soul is, right? This question permeates the book and will forever intrigue me.

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