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"The Echo Maker" by Richard Powers

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In "The Echo Maker" Richard Powers gives us an encylopedic recap of neurological pathologies, and a fraught scientific debate about the current state of neurology.

This book portrays accident victim Mark Schluter and his grappling with Capgras Syndrome, the inability to recognize one's loved ones - and the resulting assumption that persons close to you are impostors. Gerald Weber, MD, the cognitive neurologist and popular author, takes time out from his busy book-promotion tour to visit, but why? Is it merely to exploit Mark for his new book? Or does this unique case present a scientific opportunity to further research the illness? Or maybe it's because he finds Mark's sister Karin's pleading for help too appealing to turn down. Whatever the reason, Dr. Weber's visit coincides with a precipitous drop in his popular reputation, and a frightening downward slide in which he begins to diagnose numerous neuropathologies in himself.

Powers's gift lies in his erudition. He succeeds in personalizing quite a bit of current neurology for the reader, but his narrative thread frays at the end. I didn't quite credit Dr. Weber's breakdown, and am still confused about the character who poses as a nurse's aide throughout. What in the world is her motivation? The sandhill crane migration, and the environmental politics surrounding it, serve as a background, and a highly poetic one at times, but is there more to it than - these birds are simply a good example of focused and useful consciousness? The story's greatest success lies in elucidating the shifting and fragile nature of human consciousness and memory. Otherwise, this book is overlong, particularly as regards Dr. Weber, whose deterioration I found quite forced.
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