The Echo Wife showcases clones that don't feel like bland copies but vibrant anomalies.
Flaws are often inherited. Those who make and/or raise children push forward their strengths and weaknesses, partly preforming who they are. It’s an endless echo that is heard from generation to generation and burrows itself deep into one's psyche. That burrowing can prompt people to commit misdeeds that scar their children, as their monstrosities migrate to kin. But The Echo Wife proffers that while some might always hear that echo and be tempted to mimic it back, they have the choice to resist it. Because they are not clones of what came before, but wholly different people with nuances of their own.
If The Echo Wife just tackled that theme, it would already be a powerful novel, but it’s more than that. Sarah Gailey writes with exacting prose to deliver an engaging story with a wide web of threads and ideas, all coming together in a way that should please both readers of mind-bending sci-fi and popular thrillers. It balances incisive character moments, the ramifications of cloning, and twists that should still pack a punch whether you predict them or not.
I will give a brief, withholding synopsis because I want to avoid spoilers. Evelyn is a researcher designing clones. She’s also dealing with her husband, Nathan’s affair and separation. Things become thornier when she realizes the woman he’s in a relationship with, named Martine, is a clone of herself—only, parts of the clone have deviated from Evelyn's personality to turn her into Nathan’s ideal woman. And that clone is inexplicably pregnant, a thing that Evelyn thought was a biological impossibility for clones. Murder shortly ensues and complex, highly-charged interactions are offered aplenty.
This is a very insular novel, and that’s a compliment. It’s difficult to deliver a story with such grand ideas, and only center a handful of characters. But The Echo Wife pushes all of the characters to the extreme, as we see the breadth of emotions from them all—some characters who start off rocky methodically transition into steady and vice versa. Whether it’s Martine’s growth of openly expressing a wider array of emotions, even ones that are stigmatized, or Evelyn’s detachment from the parts of her past rotting her insides, every story and character beat is skillfully maneuvered. Only Nathan has a slower character arc, but by the end, there is some development, albeit more miniscule and nuanced.
Nuance is an important word in this book. The Echo Wife posits the flaw of humans to either focus on the macro of people, or just the micros that are pertinent to them. And it pushes its readers to dig deeper for rewards--not only because human connection is most satisfying with genuine bonds and not self-interested ones, but because there are little morsels of information that reveal the novel to be greater than the sum of its part. Missing nuances is unfortunate both in real life and in the reading of this novel.
In some people’s - including Nathan's - head a person as anodyne as possible is ideal. But ideals in the head are often better than reality. Sarah Gailey has highlighted how characters are best when jagged, only willing to smooth over the parts of them that are truly harmful, leaving a lot of roughness behind. For that and many other reasons, The Echo Wife is an excellent novel, and I wouldn’t change much of it even if I could.
Baseline Score: 8/10
Bonuses: +1 For skillfully following through on all of its plot threads.
Nerd Coefficient: 9/10
POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, stand-up comedian, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!"
Gailey, Sarah. The Echo Wife [Tor Books, 2021].