If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that Sarah Gailey reliably publishes original and cool SFF. I have yet to read their American Hippo novellas, I wasn’t a huge fan of Upright Women Wanted but I have adored all their novels so far, even the one where people try to get away with murder and you’re rooting for them to succeed…
The Echo Wife has a bit of murder as well, although it’s much more about when is a person a person and what does that even mean.
THE ECHO WIFE
by Sarah Gailey
Published: Tor, 2021
eBook: 256 pages
My rating: 8/10
Opening line: My gown was beautiful.
“When they said all happy families are alike, I don’t think this is what they meant…”
Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair — with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with a genetically cloned replica.
After a morning that begins with a confrontation and ends with Nathan’s body bleeding out on the kitchen floor, the two Caldwell wives will have to think fast—before sharing everything includes sharing a jail cell.
The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride of lies, betrayal, and identity, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies and Killing Eve.
Evelyn Caldwell is a highly driven, super successful scientist who has just been awarded a prize for her work creating clones. As much as she enjoys her success, she also has a secret. Her very freshly divorced ex-husband has been cheating on her (thus the divorce) but he isn’t just your average cheating dude. No, he was apparently almost happy with Evelyn as his wife. She just wasn’t quite perfect enough for him. So it only makes sense that the woman he’s been cheating with is a clone of Evelyn, slightly altered to be just a bit nicer, a bit more of a family person, a bit more accommodating and friendlier, a bit better than the original Evelyn…
With a premise such as this you can only imagine what kind of a story Sarah Gailey can weave. I simply adored this book because, like all of the best novels, it has layers than can each be enjoyed individually or as a whole that comes together beautifully. On the surface level, this book is a thriller. Nathan’s new-and-improved (maybe, maybe not really?) wife Martine ends up stabbing the guy and being a big secret herself – obviously you can’t just clone people willy-nilly – she calls th eonly person who knows of her existence and is still alive: Evelyn. Evelyn really, really doesn’t want to help Martine. The fact that she exists and is such a blatant image of everything that Nathan felt was wrong with Evelyn is just too much! But if Martine gets found out, it will cause a scandal which might threaten Evelyn’s further research and besmirch her reputation… So the two team up and try to get away with murder. Which is exactly as difficult as you think, and then some.
But on a deeper level, Gailey explores so many themes that make this more than “just” an SF thriller. Starting with Evelyn herself, who doesn’t at all fit the clichéd gender norms people might still have for women. First of all, she’s a scientist and she burns with passion for her job, although that passion may not look the way you’d think. She doesn’t hold great speeches, but she simply adores what she does, she’s exact, she’s strict with herself, she sticks to the rules (always double up on the gloves) and she doesn’t accept mistakes. Which is why her lab assistants usually flee after a few weeks… Except for Seyed who seems completely resilient to her moods and does the work admirably. Their relationship isn’t exactly warm, but it is a great partnership that works for the job they’re trying to accomplish.
Then there’s the fact that Evelyn, unlike her husband Nathan, has no desire to have children. Ever. I’m seeing this more and more in fiction and I love that it is represented as a simple choice, not something wrong with a woman. Evelyn is rocking her career and has never felt particularly motherly, so why should she feel the need to have a child simply because she is female?
Possibly the most intriguing character, though, is Evelyn’s clone Martine. The fairly obvious question of whether Martine “counts” as a human or not is only one of many that I asked myself while reading this book. Since Evelyn isn’t a very likeable character, Martine is represented more as a product or a thing rather than a human woman, even though – for all intents and purposes – she is exactly like Evelyn, if Evelyn had had different influences in her life. And perfect skin because it was only made last year…
But Martine’s character is about much more than just her human-ness or inhuman-ness. I had no problem seeing her as a person with her own wishes and desires, but then comes the question of where those desires came from. Are they something that she simply wants, like some of us simply want to pursue our hobby, be taht playing a musical instrument or, say, reading. Or are her desires simply what has been programmed into her brain. And how does that make her different from any of us, who may not have been programmed by another human but who are also influenced and guided by the world and people that surround us, by our experiences?
I have no answers for those questions and The Echo Wife also doesn’t try to give you one either. Rather, it nudges you to think for yourself, to ponder these ideas, to look at humans and science for what it can achieve and whether just because you can, you should (yes, I totally have the Jurassic Park line in my head right now).
Sarah Gailey has once more proved that they can write a damn good book about whichever topic takes their fancy. The tension arcs work really well here and whenever you think one mystery has been solved or one problem gotten rid off, there’s something new waiting to be excited about. I loved this book on every level. The storytelling, the plot, the characters, and the twists. The writing flows as it should in a thriller and makes it hard to put the book down. I am still unsure about the ending. On the one hand, I find it perfect, on the other hand, it leaves some things about the future open. I’ll have to think about that some more, but my overall reading experience was fantastic!
MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!