Review: The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey
Wowza. This is going to be a spoiler-heavy review, so here is my quickfire, no-spoiler recommendation for everybody who might be interested. This book is brilliant. It's clever, it's dark, it's twisting, the main character is complicated and difficult as hell, and the entirety of the book raises some really difficult questions that I did not enjoy grappling with but the book made me do anyway. This is in contention for my Top 10 of 2021 list, and I think is one of the strongest entries in the thriller genre and the domestic thriller subgenre I have read in a long, long time. I will say nothing about the plot because this really is a book you need to go into completely unspoiled, but suffice to say I highly, highly recommend this and in fact want everyone I know to read it so I can discuss it with someone.
Right - now, turn back, for...
OKAY SO. First things first - I adored, adored, adored this novel. I loved how Sarah Gailey centered so many of the tropes of the domestic thriller subgenre onto our main character, Evelyn Caldwell - psychological horror, marital thrillers, locked-room mysteries, etc. I loved the multiple different ways this book played with the narrative arc of mirror images and identity, and how Evelyn spends the entirety of the book grappling with what it means to be herself, as well as being the daughter of her parents, and her fear of being too much like her abusive father and also too much like her mother. I loved that the entirety of the book is spent establishing how profoundly unlikeable a character Evelyn is, yet she never apologizes for it or wipes away the parts of herself that make her that way; they are just a part of her personality and so they are a part of the story. I have very rarely come across a character, in any thriller, that is so complicated and layered and nuanced and difficult, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that we came away from the book without any better idea of how to feel about her than what our instinct already suggested.
And, oh my days, what a story. Very basically - Evelyn is a brilliant geneticist who works on cloning. One day, she discovers that her husband has stolen her research and cloned her because he wants a baby and she doesn't. The clone, Martine, goes after the husband, Nathan, and kills him - and Evelyn steps in to help Martine get away with murder. THAT reveal, the big climax near the tail end of the book, was so well-done and so completely unexpected that I legitimately screamed and almost gave my housemate a heart attack (since I inhaled this book in one sitting and was screaming in shock at 5am, I think she was worried I was being murdered).
There were, however, two things that didn't quite work for me throughout this book, and I would be remiss not to quickly mention them: one, the pacing was a bit off - a lot of time, I think almost eighteen months, gets compressed into a tight 256 pages, which means that some of the more consequential moments fell a bit flat since we didn't spend enough time going through the aftermath and the repercussions before we moved on to the next event. And while I really enjoyed the fact that the creepy uneasiness about Evelyn and her motives, as well as what's going to happen next, still existed over the end of the novel and we've only got the icky feeling in our tummy that things could still go very, very badly as a resolution, I do wish that Evelyn hadn't gotten off completely scot free. I think I'd have liked to see her suffer some consequences for her complete and total willingness to play God.
And that brings us to the final point I loved about this novel - Sarah Gailey introduces a topic that a lot of people (myself included) feel very squeamish about, and managed to tell a thriller that centers around a piece of very, very complex science and ethics and make it central to her plot while never passing moral judgment on it. They handled it well, and I definitely appreciated the research and dedication to the science portion of it - but you know, having read this book, I think I still come down on the side of let's not do cloning. Doesn't seem like the greatest of ideas.
Anyway, that's all she wrote, folks. Please everyone go read this book - it's so good, and so thought-provoking, and I really want to talk about it with people.