Richard Powers is one of those guys (OK, actually: he’s the only guy) that I’ve been meaning to read for years now, ever since my younger, impressionable self read an incandescent review in Time of Galatea 2.2. But it wasn’t until I pulled a copy of The Echo Maker off the take shelf at work (and which, by the way: Is there any sight more depressing than the take shelf, the place where the book reviewers toss all the books they’re never going to read, much less review? Every time I walk past that pile of hundreds of books, representing months, years, decades of work, it makes me cringe, and worry about a similar fate for anything I do) that I fully appreciated what I’ve been missing.
Other, better reviewers than I have published far smarter commentary on the the book than I ever could, so I’ll limit myself to saying this one is highly recommended, and to quote from my favorite review, from Margaret Atwood:
If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century, which writer would he be? He’d probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big. Moby-Dick sank like a stone when it first came out: it had to wait almost a century before its true importance was recognized. Given Powers’s previous interest in devices like time capsules, I’d hazard that he has the long view in mind: open him up in a hundred years, and there, laid out before you in novel after novel, will be the preoccupations and obsessions and speech patterns and jokes and gruesome mistakes and eating habits and illusions and stupidities and loves and hates and guilts of his own time. All novels are time capsules, but Powers’s novels are larger and more inclusive time capsules than most.
I doubt that Richard Powers will have to wait a hundred years, however. American literature students will be into him with their picks and shovels before long. He’s the stuff of a thousand Ph.D. theses, or I’ll be the Wizard of Oz.