Review of “Echo Wife” by Sarah Gailey

BookShop/Indiebound/Libro.FM (AudioBook)

*In an effort to support independent bookstores, especially during these trying economic times, I will only be including direct links to sources where you can buy these books from local bookstores*

Synopsis:

Taken from Macmillian’s Website

I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married.

It took me so long to hate him.

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.

Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.”

Taken from Macmillian’s Website

Sometimes there are books that are just a bit admittedly too ambitious in scope, establishing expectations that work ultimately fails to live up to. Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife ended up being that type of book, at least for me. Something that you envisioned holding all this potential, but when you actually read it, you’re left with a largely disappointing mess of a novel.

Reading over the synopsis, prior to reading, I shaped my own eagerness for a psychological thriller mixed with some awesome Black Mirror science fiction elements, the sci-fi elements would work as a dark portrait to reflect some sordid aspect of ourselves, allow the reader (or viewer in Black Mirror’s case) to horrifyingly watch some dark side of the human psyche being portrayed cautioning us that the advances of technology have not actually advanced humanity on a psychological level. Certain primeval parts of ourselves have actually not been removed from the psyche, but buried in the subconscious. In so many instances, technology becomes a conduit, a device for some subconscious part of ourselves to sublimate itself through some horrific action.

In The Echo Wife’s case, the notion of genetically cloned replica, concept of cloning, becomes a storytelling medium for author Sarah Gailey to wrestle the thornier aspects of emotional abuse found in a deteriorating marriage, from the perspective of the wife Evelyn, who often chafes at the forced divided spheres of her world of domesticity of marriage and those of her professional work as a scientist perfecting clone technology. These are the dynamics of the story I was drawn to most of all, having a strong interest in gender psychology. I was really hoping for the work to provide new insights to this embattled sense of self that patriarchal society contrives for women. We see it all the time sometimes, and neither side ever wants women to feel they can bridge the gaps in their self, it’s an artificial binary that never works for anyone. There is the more traditional conservative expectation that women must forsake their professional life to have a family, or completely repress any maternal instincts in order to lead out a childless life. Of course, with the advent of birth control, and other medical advancements has finally given women control over the one thing a patriarchal structure has used in order to harness control over them, so now the whole debate has changed to controlling access to these things, as the patriarchal structure leads out its last ailing efforts at regaining control in a world that (thankfully) is moving more towards egalitarianism.

While this book might write these things in more extreme ways for storytelling purposes, this conflict dwells within us all, men and women. Because in the midst of this is the societal pressure exerting on not only women, but men as well, men are taught implicitly in a patriarchy to resent and repress all perceived femininity within themselves; it’s one of the reasons Victor Frankenstein rejects his creation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, unwilling to accept those otherwise egalitarian traits of self that might foster love/care for another being (more paternal roles), and instead leave himself unfulfilled and divided, running from his own creation, child in a sense, to become an unloved, alienated monstrosity.

And this book at least tries through the character of a scientist exploring cloning, artificial intelligence, as a means to transcend the divided self, the normative gender roles, to create a story where two separate sets of twins- the scientist and her clone, who is also the ideal wife to the husband who exists solely for him- learn to bridge the gap between themselves, explores the different polarity of selves. But yet, the book falls apart fairly quickly, becoming steeped in longwinded digressions by our lead character with her rightful sense of betray and anger towards her husband becoming more and more generic, underdeveloped. The male character himself often like a caricature, just a moronic, emotionally-abusive “nice guy” male character that never really feels developed whatsoever, making the lead character’s anger towards him not feel as fully-developed as it should be.It’s a shame too because discussing abuse in all its different forms is extremely important, and provides a sense of healing, empowerment to those who have faced it in their lives.

Some of the best domestic thrillers I’ve read will try to actually develop all characters involved to make us as the reader get a better sense of the complexity involved from all sides. A lot of the book has large concepts that become shallow apparitions because the writing often feels stilted, forced, as if we’re seeing the outline of an overall story take shape but without the verve of character, without more subtle forms of writing that could have made this book leave a deeper impression on the reader.

Another problem is that the actual mystery at the core of the book never materializes. From the beginning, we are told (versus shown) a murder that happens, and I felt apathetic from there because nothing is ever really developed this early on. There’s no gravity to the scene, nothing that makes you feel like there’s any reason to even keep on reading, as the mystery almost vanishes entirely by a writer that starts filling-in the details too early, leaving nothing to motivate you to keep read.

From there on, we’re left with scattered impressions and imaginings of a book that could have went further but the writing never seems to create any sense of cohesion, at least to me, that brings everything together, that immerses me as the reader into the greater scheme at large. And perhaps part of that can be attributed to stronger examples of psychological thrillers that do a better job cohesively writing a far more interesting psychological thriller that can balance both suspension of disbelief of the reader, complex characters and concepts without feeling like a loosely sketched map of a novel filled with half-conceived ideas that ultimately go nowhere. It is a book that holds more potential in its synopsis, but the actual execution of the story leaves you feeling largely bored in a dithering labyrinth of half-developed ideas and listless exposition.

While this book was not necessarily for me, I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s thoughts on the title. I try to tailor my reviews to leave it open for you the reader to decide, as nothing about my reviews/my own subjective feelings should ever have any bearing on how you read a work. I still recommend everyone to explore the work, if the synopsis intrigues them, because I never want to prevent people from getting something different from the book, and perhaps shaping a very different opinion than my own.

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