The Echo Maker

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The Echo Maker
Front cover and spine of first edition
AuthorRichard Powers
CountryUnited States
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages464 pp
813/.54 22
LC ClassPS3566.O92 E27 2006
Preceded byThe Time of Our Singing 

The Echo Maker is a 2006 novel by American writer Richard Powers. It won the National Book Award for Fiction[1][2] and was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist.[3]

Plot introduction[edit]

On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter flips his truck in a near-fatal accident. His older sister, Karin, his only near kin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when he emerges from a protracted coma, Mark believes that this woman — who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister — is really an impostor. Shattered by her brother's refusal to recognize her, Karin contacts the cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber, famous for his case histories describing brain disorders. Weber recognized Mark's condition as a rare case of Capgras syndrome — the delusion that people in one's life are doubles or impostors — and eagerly investigates.

What he discovers in Mark slowly undermines even his own sense of being. Meanwhile, Mark, armed only with a note left by an anonymous witness, attempts to learn what happened the night of his inexplicable accident.


Main characters[edit]

  • Karin Schluter quits her job as a service representative to return home to Kearney, Nebraska to care for her comatose brother.
  • Mark Schluter has a mysterious truck rollover on a deserted country road and eventually comes out of a coma suffering from a variety of delusions.
  • Gerald Weber is a popular writer of books on neurology who answers a personal email from Karin requesting that he come to Nebraska. Weber may be a partial fictionalization of Oliver Sacks, 1933-2015, who was a neurologist, best-selling author, and professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine. Sacks was the author of a number of nonfiction books, beginning with Awakenings (1973) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), which use case histories interwoven with explanatory narrative to describe a range of brain conditions that result in unusual manifestations of neurologic deficits, in much the way Weber does in The Echo Maker.


According to Richard Powers,[4]

[The] aim in The Echo Maker is to put forward, at the same time, a glimpse of the solid, continuous, stable, perfect story we try to fashion about the world and about ourselves, while at the same time to lift the rug and glimpse the amorphous, improvised, messy, crack-strewn, gaping thing underneath all that narration. To this end, my technique was what some scholars of narrative have called double voicing. Every section of the book (until a few passages at the end) is so closely focalized through Mark, Karin, or Weber that even the narration of material event is voiced entirely through their cognitive process: the world is nothing more than what these sensibilities assemble, without any appeal to outside authority.

Margaret Atwood describes the novel's "underlying sketch" as being from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as detailed in her 2006 essay "In the Heart of the Heartland."[5] The Land of Oz, according to Atwood, is the "country of surprise" in Dr. Weber's book, a land of brain episodes. Or as Powers says, lift the rug and glimpse the amorphous, improvised, messy, crack-strewn, gaping thing underneath.[4] Each of the characters, according to Atwood, corresponds to a character from The Wizard of Oz. Karin is Dorothy trying to find her way home. Mark is the brain deficient scarecrow. Daniel is the lion who lacks courage. Robert Karsh is the flashy Tin Man who lacks a heart. The winged monkeys—destructive or helpful, depending on the situation—may possibly be represented by Mark's two primitive-minded video-gaming pals. Dr. Weber is the Wizard who appears to know all but is exposed in the end. Barbara is a combination of Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. Powers is known for structuring novels around other works of art, and clues to the Oz connection are scattered throughout the novel: At one point, Weber's wife Sylvie says, "Yo, Man—I'm home!... No place like it!", and five pages later, Weber reflects: "The utter estrangement of it: I've a feeling we're not in New York anymore." Robert Karsh even "..hummed a high- pitched rendition of the tornado music from The Wizard of Oz," (p. 295).

Colson Whitehead, writing in The New York Times, called it a "post-911 novel .. not an elegy for How We Used to Live or a salute to Coming to Grips, but a quiet exploration of how we survive, day to day."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 2006". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
    (With essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ Andrea Lynn (November 2006). "A Powers-ful Presence". LASNews Magazine. University of Illinois. Retrieved 2006-11-29.
  3. ^ "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
  4. ^ a b Richard Powers, "Echo Maker Roundtable #5", 20 October 2006
  5. ^ Margaret Atwood. "In the Heart of the Heartland", from The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2006, pg.58-60
  6. ^ Colson Whitehead, "Migratory Spirits", The New York Times, 22 October 2006

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Europe Central
William Vollmann
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
Tree of Smoke
Denis Johnson