Book Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (February 16, 2021)
Length: 256 pages
My one and only experience with Sarah Gailey before this had been River of Teeth, the first book of an alt-history hippo western novella series which I didn’t really get on with, so suffice to say I had no clue what I was in for with The Echo Wife, which sounded so different. However, one look at the wide range of genres and topics Gailey has tackled in recent years, it’s clear I’m also reading a very versatile and creative author, so I was actually feeling quite optimistic when I discovered this was a work of science fiction mystery and suspense.
Turns out, my hunch was correct. While The Echo Wife was certainly not typical of what I would expect from the genre, it hooked me regardless. We’re introduced to protagonist Dr. Eveyln Caldwell, a brilliant geneticist who specializes in cloning. At the start of the book, she is receiving an award for her contributions to the field, and we’re in her head as she reflects upon the journey and the sacrifices she’s had to make in order to get where she is today. For while her professional career may be in bloom, her personal life is in tatters. Years of putting her work before everything else has driven an irreversible wedge between Evelyn and her husband and fellow scientist Nathan, and now he’s made it clear she’s not the woman he wants anymore. He’s recently left her for someone else, a new wife who can give him what he’s always wanted: a family.
But what really sends Evelyn’s world crashing down is the other woman’s identity, who is soon revealed to be a clone of Evelyn herself. Still, while Martine may be physically identical to Evelyn, her personality is not. Nathan had programmed his new wife to be a more docile and compliant version of the original, and on top of that, he had also somehow managed to find a way to reverse a clone’s sterility, because Martine is very visibly pregnant when she confronts Evelyn for the first time. Angry and wounded, Evelyn subsequently unleashes a torrent of hurtful words at Martine, sending her scurrying home.
And that was the end of that—or so Evelyn thought. That very night though, she receives a frantic call from Martine, begging her to come over, and when Evelyn arrives, she finds Nathan dead on the floor in a pool of blood. Gradually, the story comes out. After her heated conversation with Evelyn, Martine had confronted Nathan on some of the subjects that were broached. He had turned violent, resulting in Martine having to defend herself. Now Evelyn has no choice but to help cover up the incident, because even if she didn’t feel slightly responsible for Nathan’s death, any police investigation would lead right back to her work and destroy her reputation and career.
Granted, this one took a little while to take off, but once we reach Evelyn’s point of no return, things just zip right off from there. And given the premise, of course you’re going to get a story that’s all about cloning! A good chunk of the action actually takes place in the lab as Evelyn takes us through the ins and outs of her research, and these turned out to be some of my favorite parts. Now might also be a good time to point out that Gailey plays pretty fast and loose with the science behind cloning, but that’s okay, because the point is not the technology, it’s the story and the characters. I especially enjoyed how the author explored the implications of Martine’s creation and the fact that her feelings and desires are no less real, even though they may have been “programmed” into her by Nathan, who had wanted her to be and act a certain way.
In this setting, we are not only steeped in a palpable atmosphere of experimentation, we are also granted little glimpses of insight into Evelyn’s personality (especially that bit with the breaking bones, yikes!) She’s clearly a driven woman, but under that cold, hard exterior is also a flawed and vulnerable person who can’t help but question her life choices even as she judges Martine for being her antithesis. Ultimately, I think the characters are why I enjoyed this book so much. The Echo Wife may have elements of a psychological thriller, but at the end of the day, it’s more of a slow-burn suspense than anything that will get your heart pumping. Evelyn was really the star of the show, her eerily cool demeanor adding to the forbidding atmosphere, though she is also a sympathetic protagonist. It helped that we got flashbacks to her childhood, which went a long way in explaining some of her hang ups. Then there were her interactions with Martine, and it’s clear that by the end of the book, the two of them have learned a lot from each other.
Sure, the ending was kind of slapdash and might have tied things up a bit too neatly, but by then I think the message has been established and, to be honest, the tensions up to this point were so elevated that I was just glad to have some relief. Obviously, I got what I wanted out of this psychological sci-fi suspense, and my experience with The Echo Wife turned out to be smashing success.