The Echo Wife
by Sarah Gailey
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted April 4, 2021
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In spite of several massive lapses in logic, I enjoyed Sarah Gailey's The Echo Wife, an exploration into the ethics of cloning, the trauma of abuse, and the possibilities of redemption. I can't detail the faults without spoilers, so I'll just slide right past them.
Evelyn Caldwell has just received one of the highest honors in her field, while at the same time she is still processing her divorce from Nathan. She has developed unique procedures and techniques in cloning, work that she once shared with Nathan, but it is implied he was the lesser partner, and he had moved out of her lab into other work. A year or two after that, Nathan moved out of their home when Evelyn discovered his affair. The other woman is the "echo wife," a clone of Evelyn. I'll relent and say this is the first lapse in logic. Nathan, whom we had been told was the lesser intellect, has accomplished something that surprises Evelyn. She thinks what he did should have been impossible.
Told in first-person by Evelyn, the quintessential unreliable narrator, she only hints at traumas from her childhood, although on the second or third mention I suspected something that wasn't revealed until near the end. Other stories of cloning deal with the rights of the clone, whereas here they aren't considered human, they have no rights, they are merely specimens, tools. Created to be a politician's body double, or an incubator for organ transplants, any failed specimen is disposed of without malice, without remorse. Just go on to the next specimen in hopes of correcting whatever caused the previous failure. The main problem with Evelyn is that her careless indifference to her specimens is also reflected in her personal life. Other than her lab assistant Seyed, and the executives she occasionally has to report to for funding, her social interaction is practically nil. She has no friends, she is estranged from her mother, her father is dead. Her work is everything, which is what caused the rift with Nathan. He's a lot like her too, self-absorbed, intent on his own desires, which Evelyn had denied him. Hint: I'm not talking about sex.
Remove the cloning scenario and this would still be a good story. It's about identity and memory, nature vs. nurture, how every experience shapes us, for good or ill. Can an abused person leave that trauma behind, or will it play out in their later life, with them as the abuser? We don't learn much about Nathan's previous life, just the ways in which he attempted to manipulate Evelyn, but of course we get that information from Evelyn, so it is suspect. What we learn about his later actions seems damning, but from another perspective it's not much different than what Evelyn has been doing. Neither Evelyn or Nathan are sympathetic characters. For a while neither is Martine, the echo wife, but it's possible her ability to transcend her programming will inspire Evelyn to perfect her techniques even more. If this was a movie or TV show, the illogical events would have the viewer moaning, "No way they'd get away with that!" Otherwise, it's a taut, contemplative, psychological thriller. Recommended with those minor reservations.
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