Ed put in another year unchallenged as the litblog world’s preeminent gadfly, offering blanket coverage of all things literary with impressive depth and ample humor. His Bat Segundo show was equally impressive, offering dozens of interviews with top authors this year. I still need to catch up, but Ed has found the time to contribute to our ongoing series:
I am withholding my top ten list until the turn of the year, not because I don’t find you sexy or stunning, Mr. Magee, and certainly not because I don’t possess a taxonomic mind set. Rather, I object to associating one’s literary compulsions with the dreaded consumerist impulses of the Xmas season. So that list will have to wait until we’ve all been thoroughly gorged with goose and egg nog and a few carolers have contracted laryngitis due to their relentless and cloying largesse.
Thankfully, sir, you have been kind enough to confine your question to one peremptory and all-encompassing one, an absolute value that I am all too happy to answer. And I can say, without a doubt, that Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker is the finest book I had the honor of reading this year. I did not ride the National Book Award bandwagon on this one. I knew this tome was the Great Book early on, well before the NBA longlist was launched. I was enchanted, lost, and entirely inveigled by Powers’ deceptively simple premise: a man gets involved in an accident, suffers a rare condition called Capgras’ syndrome, and cannot recognize the sister who has sacrificed her job and the many threads of her life to care for him. This sounds like a ridiculously melodramatic premise. But it is Powers’ adept narrative skill that makes this scenario fundamentally real and a fundamentally poetic tapestry revealing post-9/11 transformations within America.
The book, as Margaret Atwood has suggested, demands to be read twice. This book is the full realization of Powers as social novelist, an experiment he attempted before with Gain, albeit with some didacticism attached. But almost a decade wiser, Powers has given us a daring Rorschach Test that any person who cares about literature is indebted to pick up and get lost in.