BookBrowse Reviews The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

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The Echo Wife

by Sarah Gailey

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey X
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 256 pages

    May 2022, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Will Heath
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About this Book



Balancing big ethical and philosophical questions with a sharply-written character drama, The Echo Wife is modern science fiction landing on its strongest beat.

The science fiction genre has explored so many avenues over the decades. Sometimes, sci-fi stories are fantastical and theatrical. Other times, they're thinly-veiled allegories used to examine specific moral and philosophical ideas. In The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey combines multiple story elements in the vein of classic sci-fi by Golden Age writers like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick. Gailey's novel poses big questions but never distracts itself from a compelling, intimate, character-led narrative.

The Echo Wife is told in the first person by Evelyn, a research biologist. At the beginning of the story, she is receiving an award for her groundbreaking work with genetic cloning (see Beyond the Book). She has also recently gone through a divorce with Nathan, a fellow scientist who went down the academic route and is newly engaged.

After the award ceremony — which introduces Evelyn's work, background and relationships in a clear and succinct way — we are thrust into the book's main narrative. Nathan's fiancée, Martine, has extended an olive branch and invited Evelyn for tea. It is here that we learn something Evelyn already knows: Martine is a clone of Evelyn, designed and grown by Nathan. Martine is also pregnant, which, according to Evelyn, should be impossible for a clone.

This initial setup is intensely satisfying. It introduces our characters and their relationships. It gives us moral and ethical questions. It also portrays Nathan as a dubious and suspicious character before we've even met him. Martine's existence establishes him as a man who wasn't satisfied with his marriage and so decided to restart the relationship with a clone of his wife who he could better mold and control.

The story really kicks into gear when Martine calls Evelyn soon after their meeting, revealing that she has just killed Nathan in self-defense and needs help. From here, we get a laser-focused narrative that follows the choices and actions of a woman and her clone, with only a tiny handful of supporting and background characters. We spend The Echo Wife in Evelyn's head, seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels.

Evelyn is a cleanly-written protagonist. She takes a clinical, practical approach to other people, finding solutions to their problems rather than offering condolences and emotional support. In this way, she is cold but far from loveless, and this complexity can be seen in various aspects of her character. She has a strained relationship with her mother, and was raised by a father who was abusive but also inspired her love for biology.

What's astonishing about The Echo Wife from the beginning isn't only how solid and vivid Evelyn is as a character and a narrator. It is also how real the science of this novel feels. Gailey is not a scientist, and yet they have done their research, cultivating an intimate world of laboratories and specimens. They pepper the pages with enough jargon for us to be grounded in the details and trust them, without ever feeling lost in an ocean of confusing terms and ideas. This is speculative fiction at its finest, taking science that seems plausible and using it to ask exciting questions about what makes us alive, what makes us human, what separates and divides and unites us. The novel doesn't demand or provide answers so much as request that we keep these questions in mind and apply them to our moral compass.

The structure of The Echo Wife is delightful, built in a way that resembles a traditional five-act stage play, with the tone frequently shifted by the reveal of a new twist. The book gets into a rhythm of ending many of its short chapters with revelations and cliffhangers before beginning the next chapter with an anecdote from Evelyn about her married life, her work or her childhood. These anecdotes factor into the themes or events that follow. The plotting and pacing is pitch-perfect.

Gailey wields their pen with strength and precision, carving out a focused and clean narrative, molding characters with distinct and crystal-clear personalities, offering questions, twists and moral quandaries that keep us engaged until the very last page. The Echo Wife is a perfect, character-driven science fiction story. A future classic.

Reviewed by Will Heath

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2021, and has been updated for the June 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  A Brief History of Cloning


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