Friday, April 10, 2009

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

The Echo Maker
Richard Powers
Richard Powers' recent and brilliant bookThe Echo Maker has been called an "post 911 novel",a description that seems to fit in that its central metaphor is the yearning for a time before life became problematic.But that's too pat a description, and it cheats against Power's on going themes of characters trying to reintegrate themselves into what they view as an ideal past they've either been torn from, had ignored until they were older and hobbled with responsibility and ailments, or were denied outright. There's some things in common with Don DeLillo, as in how a constructed reality and the narratives we create to give them to give them weight, but DeLillo, despite his frequent beauty, hasn't Powers' heart.

The previous Power's novel, The Time of Their Singing was a saga involving a family of mixed race, white German and African American where he watch the struggles of three mixed-ethnic children struggle to find niches for themselves in a racially divided America of the Fifties and Sixties; politics, art, music are areas the two sons and daughter respectively seek their places within, and all are shunned and shunted off. The consequence is hard bitterness , with the power of the novel being that being an outsider in a culture that brags of its inclusionist brilliance is a lonely crock to find yourself stuck in. Powers , additionally, gets the heartache and the delirious joy right; there is alway something seething under the character's surface, passions and obsessions lighting or dimming their view of the day.

The Echo Maker makes me think of a comedy routine where the comedian posits "I went to bed last night and when I woke up everything around me had been replaced with exact replicas".The comedy routine was funny, the novel is tragic, but they share the same premise, finding yourself stuck in a skin where nothing around appears false, a world of impostured objects. Family crisis time, of course, as neither Karin nor Mark having especially heroic lives to begin with, suddenly tossed by circumstance into a medical dilemma where the desired , dreamed of outcome would be a return to the banal life that existed prior to the accident. Powers shares with DeLillo the ability to wax lyric on the familiar world and make it appear strange, foreboding, erotic, fancying a sweet semiological turn as the associations with the objects and places fade and the remains of memory become a forlorn poetry. But again, Powers has the younger, bigger heart than DeLillo's magisterial detachment, and we appreciate quietly conveyed message; pay attention to the moment you're in, make note of what's important, do something with what you have. Not to do so invites regret and final years of wondering what happened during the time in the middle of life.

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