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Gain braids together two stories on very different scales. In one, Laura Body, divorced mother of two and a real-estate agent in the small town of Lacewood, Illinois, plunges into a new existence when she learns that she has ovarian cancer. In the other, Clare & Company, a soap manufacturer begun by three brothers in nineteenth-century Boston, grows over the course of a century and a half into an international consumer products conglomerate based in Laura's hometown. Clare's stunning growth reflects the kaleidoscopic history of America; Laura Body's life is changed forever by Clare. The novel's stunning conclusion reveals the countless invisible connections between the largest enterprises and the smallest lives.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
Not easy to read
I think Echo Maker is Powers' finest work. The history of this soap/chemical industry was so tedious once we got past the first generation of Clairs, I just wanted it to be over. Laura's story, in contrast, was compelling as her days were eaten away by the cancer cells multiplying inside her. Her story would have been enough. The corporate story was simply too long in the telling.
Richard Powers's Finest Novel To Date
The way I describe this book when I am trying to convince friends to read it is that it's two intersecting cross sections of our way of life. The main story is a horizontal section taken through the life of an ordinary woman, a single mother trying to get by as a real estate agent in a small company town. This story is told in parallel with the history of the company itself, a Poctor & Gamble-esque megacorporation.
The key driver of the story is that the woman gets cancer and blames the company plant, but this is not a book about the heroic cancer victim campaigning against corporate evil, but how the way we live, the decisions we make, and go we got to be here interact in a kind of inevitability.
There is a moment, which I will try not to spoil, in the book, which is almost a literary frozen pan. Suddenly the narrative freezes and Powers describes a vertical cross section of a moment. How a typical product got to be at a particular place and time. Then the story continues to its inevitable conclusion.
Not a happy book, but a compelling an thought-provoking one.