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Book Club Fri Aug 14 2009

September Book: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

Our September book is The Echo Maker by Richard Powers, an engrossing novel about the mystery of the human brain. On a lonely stretch of highway in Nebraska on a cold February night, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schulter is in a near-fatal car accident. He survives, but the accident leaves him with a brain injury that causes him to believe his older sister, Karin, is an imposter.

Karin enlists the help of Dr. Gerald Weber, a well-known neurologist and author of several popular books about patients living with rare neurological conditions. But Weber's most recent book is a flop, and as his career declines, Weber finds himself ill-equipped to help Mark.

Throughout the book, the point-of-view shifts between Karin, Weber and Mark. Karin struggles to recover the brother she seems to have lost; Mark delves into the mystery of the circumstances of his accident; and Weber sheds light on the fragility and resiliency of the human mind through his recollection of case histories. This complex and compelling narrative is part drama, part science and part detective story, all leading to a surprising conclusion.

In an interview with Powell's Books, Powers described the novel this way:

"The prose is an attempt to recreate that return from a complete loss of conscious mental functioning, or any sense of anchored self. Yes, and there is a way in which it's a recapitulation of the original process of self-assembly. There's a lot of suggestion on the part of the different stories of the characters in the books that baseline consciousness is always just a step away from other, stranger, earlier, lower processes that are part of us, but that we have to do a whole lot of footwork in order to hide, to keep invisible."

Ultimately, The Echo Maker is about how we make sense of ourselves, our past and our present.

The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award for fiction and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

About the Author
Richard Powers was born in 1957 in Evanston, IL, and spent most of his formative years in the north suburbs. When he was fifteen, his family resettled in DeKalb, IL, after spending four years in Bangkok, Thailand, where Powers' father was an administrator at the International School of Bangkok. Powers earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1992, Powers began a long association with the U of I, first as a writer-in-residence. He is currently the Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor of English at the university.

Richard Powers: American novelist
An authorized website dedicated to the author. Everything you wanted to know about Richard Powers. The site includes an extensive bibliography of articles by and about Powers, plus citations and links to interviews, reviews, criticism and more.

Richard Powers' Narrative Impulse
This interview with Powers from was conducted shortly after the publication of The Echo Maker. In it, Powers provides plenty of insight into the novel.

Author Richard Powers
Listen to an interview with Richard Powers from NPR, which first aired on December 12, 2006, just after The Echo Maker had won the National Book Award.

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John / August 17, 2009 9:28 PM

This video-accompanied reading by Powers of a passage from The Echo Maker might whet your appetite. Great book!

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