Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Echo Maker

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The Echo Maker

A Novel

by Richard Powers

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 464 pages

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  • Richard Powers wrote most of The Echo Maker on a tablet PC using voice recognition software. He says, "I’ve always wanted the freedom to be completely disembodied when I’m writing, to feel as if I’m in a pure compositional state. Typing is a highly unnatural activity, and your writing style ends up reflecting the cognitive shackles."
  • According to an article in the Guardian (UK), before he was married Powers spent a year not speaking to anyone - at the end of which he'd written a 400-page novel but, as he puts it, had become "a bit weird".
  • For many years, he was uncomfortable giving interviews, and did not speak to the press until his third novel was published; his photograph did not appear on the dust jacket of his books until his fifth book - he finds the act of formally advertising his personality stressful and strange; an attitude he's been forced to abandon with his increasing success.
  • In The Echo Maker Powers explores the fine line between public and private persona through the character of the neurologist Gerald Weber, examining what happens when a person starts to rely on the opinion of others for their self-respect, and what happens to that person when there is a dramatic and sudden shift in opinion - as happens to Gerald when his latest book is met with scathing reviews causing him to question everything about himself. In the light of the comments above about Powers's own reluctance to be caught up in his own publicity, this plotline reads as something of a cautionary tale to those who have, or aspire to, fame!
  • Mark suffers from Capgras syndrome, named after Jean Marie Joseph Capgras (1873-1950) who first identified this rare syndrome in which the person effected believes close relatives/friends are imposters.
  • The Echo Maker is set against the backdrop of the migratory bird populations that pass through the Platte River (a tributary of the Missouri River in Nebraska), and the environmental battles being fought over the River, as the demands on its water, both from farming and from the growing population of Colorado, cause it to shrink further and further.

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This article was originally published in November 2006, and has been updated for the September 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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