Top positive review
We are all slaves to Capgras syndrome.
Reviewed in the United States on January 22, 2018
Richard Powers is on a whole new level. This is a man who knows his neuroscience and how humans are tragically and inevitably flawed due to the hardwired nature of our complex and highly evolved brains. The novel has multiple layers of complexity which adds to the already unique and horrifying plot of the story: Mark Schluter, brother of Karin Schluter, crashes his vehicle on a lonely road in the middle of February when the great crane migration is taking place, a natural phenomenon that has taken place around the Platte River in Nebraska for millions of years. Mark slowly develops a rare psychological condition known as Capgras syndrome, a delusion that impels one to recognize loved ones as imposters.
Many readers have dismissed this novel as either being "too long" and "a story that should have been written in 100 lines". I, however, disagree. Yes, Powers uses a good amount of the novel to introduce a myriad of different psychological illnesses, but this is meant to relate to the nature of cognition and identity which the narrative is all about. One of the characters in the novel is a neuroscientist named Gerald Weber, a man who writes books about his case histories which involve a plethora of people who suffer from neurological disorders. This is meant to show how the human brain functions and how we humans cannot will ourselves to be the people we want to be; nor are we capable to perceive what we want to believe or see. Dr. Weber is hired by Mark's sister to find out what is wrong with him, and his knowledge of Mark's condition pushes his (Weber) ideas of the brain to a point where it nearly destroys not only his professional but personal life.
Mark Schluter believes that his Sister is an imposter. He believes this to be the case since his cortex (the rational part of the human brain) is not working correctly with his amygdala and limbic system (the part of the brain where emotions and memories are stored). Mark's mental defect also leads him to believe that his car crash was planned by the Government to control him. This is important to consider since the novel takes place during the buildup of 9/11, which adds a whole new level of paranoia and uncertainty to the nature of the novel.
There are a few sideplots to the novel that add spice to the underlying narrative. One involving Karin's boyfriend Daniel, a nature lover who is part of a nature conservatory, is trying to battle investors who are wanting to build an amusement park on the Platte River where the sandhill cranes come every year to eat and prepare for their migration. Mark is also interested in a note that was left by his bedside when he first enters the hospital from his accident, a letter that reads: I am No One, but Tonight on North Line Road, God lead me to you, so You could Live, and bring back someone else. And with all of his crazy delusions, Mark believes the person who wrote the note knows what caused his wreck that night in February. And the conclusion to the novel is something that quite literally changes the meaning of his life, even though his personality at this point is not his own.
The Echo Maker is a novel that will stab at your soul, it will challenge you to change your own personal beliefs of what the human mind is and how it affects the nature of us. Whether we are slaves to our emotions or not, one thing is for certain: We are our brains, and it controls us, not we who controls it.