The Echo Maker by Richard Powers read by Bernadette Dunne

She is a portrait of competence. She works for the big distributor of computers that packaged itself after cows. She has a knack for customer relations. She enjoys convincing users, individual by individual, that the big company wants nothing more than to make nice and relate, long term. She has removed all excess from her life, all things huge, or insubstantial.

We find her in a hospital room waiting for her brother to come back to life, as if she is watching some overlong Swedish film… A problematic brother, liked by animals, but “…when it came to humans no one knew what to make of the boy…. “. The problematic boy, Mark, has been damaged.

The language is full bodied, rich, ripe, generously given. All in good time. Bernadette Dunne, as usual, is remarkable. She narrates people thinking in low, cool tones, as if she were playing jazz for a small group of friends.

Slowly, slowly, the author mixes in big words, medical words, technical words to explain the misadventures and mistakes of the brain, configuring the brain as a fabulous animal which never stays the same. Mark’s brain is not what it was before the accident; it cannot recognize the familiar as familiar, cannot recognize his sister as the same sister, his friends as the same friends, his dog as the same dog. This misrecognition effects another: the sister who is not recognized by her brother slowly doubts her own identity, which dissolves into a piece of a town, a piece of a bed, a piece of a river…

In the middle of fields of Nebraska wheat, one theory of the brain folds into another, from a brain that tells stories, to a brain which functions like boy scouts waving their flashlights in the dark, to the brain as a series of mappings of other brain-maps,

My brain, all those split parts trying to convince each other, dozens of lost scouts waving crappy flashlights in the woods at night….

The brother, the sister, his girlfriend, a nurse’s aid, a cognitive neurologist from SUNY Stony Brook having a mid-life identity crisis…all of them unable to recognize themselves, unable, too, to recognize other beings, or other species… Hence, too, an ecological crisis: all species depend upon recognition, or go extinct….