Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Echo Maker * Richard Powers

Advice to all you would be novelists out there: if you’re thinking the only way to convey the deeply subtle meaning of your book is by revealing it in a character’s dream, or, worse yet, a coming-out-of-a-coma-drug-induced dream…think again. Other people’s dreams are always boring and nonsensical.
Fortunately, Richard Powers gives up on this ridiculous notion a quarter of the way through his National Book Award winning novel, The Echo Maker. You hereby have my permission to skip these dream bits and, in fact, any part of the novel that bores you. You will likely not miss anything, and your reading experience will be much more pleasurable for it.
Powers has a habit of throwing a lot of hard science into his novels, which, if you can stick with it, will give you some good cocktail party banter, but might otherwise bore you to tears. In this book, however, he manages to get in a thumping good plot as well.
If one were to measure the success of a novel by how well it accomplishes what it set out to do, The Echo Maker is a bit of a failure. I really wish Powers had set out to do less here, because he surely did some amazing things. There were many moments over the last few weeks when I was tempted to stay on the bus just a few stops longer in order to find out what was going to happen next. There’s a mysterious car accident, a miraculous recovery, a creepy, un-explained note, a rare brain trauma, and the empty beauty of central Nebraska. All of this bookended by the annual migration of the Sandhill Crane, an event described in passages so hauntingly beautiful, I nearly obscured them with underlining.

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