Sounds like the basis for a thrilling and challenging novel doesn’t it? The reviewers and critics certainly thought so, even shortlisting Power’s book for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Me? I was engaged at first, but quickly started to become frustrated with the inarticulate, self-absorbed and fundamentally unsympathetic characters as we become gradually caught up their banal personal and existential crises. By the end I was equally frustrated with the author Powers himself, as the narrative descends into what is essentially a mid-life crisis by Weber interspersed with pseudo-psychological musings that go nowhere: “do I exist? What does it mean to exist?” that sort of thing, I may have found this engaging as a 14-year old, but these words are in the mouths of middle-aged adults, including so-called expert neurologists…
Much of The Echo Maker is driven by Karin's anxious but ineffectual investigation of Mark's extreme neural diagnosis but there are passages which meander as much as the nearby Platte River, whose instinct-driven migrant cranes give Powers an easy symbolic backdrop to the obscure workings of memory in the human brain. This concept-heavy narrative follows Gerald Weber, a celebrity neuroscientist fascinated by the spread of Mark's paranoia. His imploding career and marriage becomes a sub-plot that helps to saturate the fabric of The Echo Maker with reflections in neuroscience which spill beyond what might be needed to address Mark's plight. Karin's involvement with two old flames - one a developer and one an environmentalist, both locked in a bitter contest over the future of the migration grounds - further distracts from Mark's essentially linear progress.
Rather than enriching the novel, these sub-plots are a too convenient, too disengaging and generally dissipate tension from what could be a shorter, sharper book.
By the end of the book, when the denouement finally comes (which is largely signposted a mile away) - like the Nebraskan winter, it left me cold.