Richard Powers


Wikipedia Information
Loading...

Showing 1 - 3 of 3 annotations associated with Powers, Richard

The Echo Maker

Powers, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-19-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mark Schluter, a 27 year old beef-processing plant worker, becomes involved in a car crash outside Kearney, Nebraska, the locus of this novel. The car crash---on February 2, 2002, a date that the author wishes to impress the reader as one that seems too numerically mystical (02/02/02) to be co-incidental--clearly has mysterious elements about it since it occurred far outside town on desolate flat country roads and amidst the tire tracks of another car. Too, just after Mark is hospitalized, there appears an undecipherable note of anonymous provenance:

I am No One
but Tonight on North Line Road
GOD led me to you
so You could Live
and bring back someone else.

Mark has an initially troublesome route to recovery, including a temporary ventriculostomy to relieve the pressure in his head. Meanwhile his only sibling, Karin, 31, rushes to his side from Sioux City, a move that becomes permanent and costs her her job. Mark eventually awakens but with an unusual mis-identification syndrome, called the Capgras syndrome (more commonly encountered in patients with psychiatric condition), in which the patient fails to recognize those closest to him as such. For a Capgras patient, there is a disconnect between the visual ability to recognize their faces and emotional response to them as close relatives or friends. He recognizes the visual similarity but considers the significant other an impostor.

This rupture in the usual see-sister's-face-acknowledge-as-sister apparently occurs, in the Capgras syndrome, in connections between one's "primitive" or "reptilian" brain, including the amygdala, and the cortex. Much is made of this failure of neuronal circuits to connect, and reminds one of the parable in His Brother's Keeper (see database) about the Chinese Emperor and the failure of the transmission of a message to explain the pathophysiology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. As Karin remembers the neurologic explanation, " 'His amygdala, she remembered. His amygdala can't talk with his cortex" [original italics] (80). This amygdala-cortex dichotomy becomes, in behavioral terms, feeling versus reason. As discussed by the two neurologists involved in Mark's case, "But no emotional ratification. Getting all the associations for a face without that gut feeling of familiarity. Pushed to a choice, cortex has to defer to amygdala"; "So it's not what you think you feel that wins out, it's what you feel you think" (131).

Out of desperation, Karin emails a request to Gerald Weber, a famous cognitive neurologist-author modeled primarily after Oliver Sacks but with a little A. R. Luria, whose "To find the soul it is necessary to lose it" is the epigraph of the novel. From the time Weber meets Mark and Karin, the book becomes an intricately entangled design of various metaphysical threads all of which, directly or indirectly, revolve around Mark's syndrome and identity--in fact the identity of all the characters. Karin becomes involved-- re-involved-- with two men from her earlier days in Kearney, Robert Karsh, a developer, and Daniel Riegel, a conservationist. Later the two men become ideologically more opposed than ever when Karsh tries to develop the annual nesting grounds of the cranes, Grus canadensis, who return to Kearney, thousands of them, every February. Barbara Gillespie, a guardian angel to Mark at the extended care rehab center, and Gerald Weber, until then a man happily married to a prototypically liberal intellectual woman, Sylvie Bolan, become romantically drawn to each other. Weber's own doubts about his work and his public image after unprecedentedly critical reviews of his latest book torment him and lead to concerns about his own identity as a physician who may be using, rather than trying to understand, his patients.

View full annotation

Gain

Powers, Richard

Last Updated: Mar-01-1999
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In Gain, Richard Powers interweaves two narratives. One is the story of Laura Bodey, a forty-two-year-old divorced realtor with two adolescent children, who lives in the midwestern U.S. town of Lacewood. Sometime in the late 1990s, Laura is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The account of her illness, treatment, and eventual death is set against the story of the Clare Soap and Chemical corporation, whose headquarters are in Lacewood, from its inception as a trading company at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The Clare corporation is implicated in Laura's death: pollutants from its Lacewood plant have been associated, not quite unquestionably, with abnormally high cancer rates in the area. A class-action suit against the company succeeds, but Clare, globally powerful and massively differentiated, is ultimately immune: no matter how much we might sympathize with individual members of the Clare company (and Powers ensures that we do), the corporation has become a kind of monster beyond human control.

View full annotation

Operation Wandering Soul

Powers, Richard

Last Updated: Sep-18-1997
Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Richard Kraft is about as burnt-out as a fifth-year resident in pediatric surgery can be. Overwhelmed by his stint in an inner-city, public hospital in Los Angeles, he seeks to hide from the misery of his patients by avoiding any personal connection with them. Then he meets twelve-year-old Joy, an Asian immigrant trying desperately to learn the puzzling ways of her new culture. She speaks words that trigger memories from Kraft's own childhood as the son of a U.S. agent in Joy's country, and he loses his distance.

He performs surgery on a life-threatening cancer in her leg, pulling back at the last minute in an unreasonable fear that he will hurt her if he cuts too deep. The implied result: incomplete excision of the cancer and a death sentence for the child he now tries, unsuccessfully to avoid. His avoidance is repeatedly foiled by Linda Espera, the physical therapist with whom he is falling in love and who will not let him abandon the emotional needs of any of the children in Joy's ward.

View full annotation