The Echo Maker is 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 ... The faith we extend to writers like Weber is, I think, the same kind of faith we put in our best fiction writers. We expect — and need — them to tell us of our world, how things work, how against all odds we make it through. With The Echo Maker, Richard Powers vindicates this faith, employing his trademark facility with all manner of esoteric discourse, but never letting it overcome the essential human truth of his characters ... I haven’t mentioned the expert plot mechanics yet, Powers’s array of tiny enigmas and red herrings, all perfectly paced ... As the features of life after 9/11 come into focus, Powers accomplishes something magnificent, no facile conflation of personal catastrophe with national calamity, but a lovely essay on perseverance in all its forms.
The Echo Maker is probably the best Powers novel so far. I say 'probably,' because it’s not possible for Powers to write an uninteresting book, and after that it’s a matter of taste. Trying to describe it is a bit like four blind men trying to describe an elephant—which end do you start at, with something so large and multi-limbed? ... The Echo Maker does not initially offer much solace. But it does at length offer some. There’s grace of a sort to be had, in the country of surprise. There’s forgiveness to be at least tried out. There are amends to be made ... The Echo Maker is a grand novel—grand in its reach, grand in its themes, grand in its patterning. That it might sometimes stray over the line into the grandiose is perhaps unavoidable: Powers is not a painter of miniatures. Of the two extremes of American mannerist style, the minimalist or Shaker chair (Dickinson, Hemingway, Carver) and the maximalist or Gilded Age (Whitman, James, Jonathan Safran Foer), Powers inclines toward the latter. He gets his effects by repetition, by a Goldberg Variation–like elaboration of motifs, by cranking up the volume and pulling out all the stops. It all adds up to one enormous oratorio-like brain episode. You stagger out of Powers’s novel happy to find yourself, like Scrooge the morning after, grasping your own bedpost, saying 'There’s no place like home,' and hoping you still have a chance to set things right.
...an exhilarating narrative feat. The ease with which the author controls his frequently complex material is sometimes as thrilling to watch as the unfolding of the story itself ... This complicated story is masterfully controlled; the pace never slackens; the writing remains direct and clear ... By the end of the novel, the narrative stakes have been raised very high, yet on the three main questions, Powers delivers handsomely: Mysteries are resolved, answers satisfactorily given. For this concentration on plot, however, there remains a price to be paid in thematic richness. It is futile to complain that the riddle of human consciousness is not fully explained; Powers illuminates it as far as current science permits and dramatizes his findings with a novelist's concern for character. Yet the resolution of the Capgras issue, realistic though it is, does not pull its weight emotionally, and the end of the mystery-note story does not reverberate as much as it might.This certainly should not dim one's admiration for Powers's boldness. He is a formidable talent, and this is a lucid, fiercely entertaining novel—which, incidentally, with the inevitable loss of intellectual richness, would make a terrific movie.
If the hallmark of great American writers has always been fearless ambition, then Powers and perhaps the even more scarily cerebral William T Vollmann are the natural next step: they render the novel of ideas as not merely an intellectual exercise, but also emotionally intense and truthfully human ... his writing is so persuasive that you're usually carried along by sheer momentum, only occasionally needing to stop and grab a dictionary ... Powers's one larger failing as a writer, however, is a lack of natural levity. I've now read five of his novels, and I can't recall a single easy laugh in any of them. This is especially felt in The Echo Maker ... It's an odd failing for a writer so otherwise observant, but ultimately even this complaint is subsumed, like the occasional techy references, under the force of Powers's prose and ideas. For this, finally, is a novel of unseemly richness and complexity, never dry or condescending, always weaving its way towards an unsettling emotional climax.
Powers' insistence that we make one another up, that our personalities coalesce from clouds of floating information, practically requires reviewers to call him 'Postmodern'; some would link him to Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, even William Gibson. Yet Powers is less these Postmodernistas' companion than he is their opposite: warm where they are cold, lyrical where they are clinical or satirical, most involved where they would be most distant. Powers wants to know not how and why we fall apart, amid paranoid systems, but how (with the help of the arts and the sciences) we might put one another together ... The Echo Maker makes a decent introduction to Powers, though Galatea and Prisoner's Dilemma remain better places to start (the former if you enjoy 'science fiction' in the conventional sense of the term, the latter if you do not). What is unusual in The Echo Maker, besides its intricate plot, is Powers' interest in nonhuman nature, in the countless species of plants and animals that have no beliefs but that now depend on our care to keep them alive.
Powers' plots transcend straightforward description. His nailing of character, however, is precise ... Powers proves himself a first-rate stylist whose characters are never caricatures in service to abstract theory. In fact, many of this idea-driven novelist's characters are unforgettable, flesh-and-blood individuals as finely drawn as those of any contemporary fiction writer.
Powers has complete command of storytelling skills, building questions of both plot and philosophy so deftly that, in their denouemont, there is no surprise, only recognition. A remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it.
...[an] eerie, accomplished ninth novel ... Powers explores the mystery surrounding Mark through suspenseful sequences involving his raucous drinking buddies (who may know more about his accident than they’re telling); compassionate caregiver Barbara Gillespie; and the unidentified observer who left a cryptic message about Mark’s ordeal at the patient’s hospital bedside. Issues of environmental stewardship and rapine, compulsions implicit in migratory patterns and Weber’s changing concept of the fluid, susceptible nature of the self are sharply dramatized in a fascinating dance of ideas. One of our best novelists once again extends his unparalleled range.