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The Echo Wife


The Echo Wife

The bestselling author of MAGIC FOR LIARS returns with THE ECHO WIFE, a science fiction-inspired domestic thriller that upends the tropes of cheating husbands, angry wives and pliant mistresses and turns them into something far more.

Dr. Evelyn Caldwell is at the height of her science career and, simultaneously, the lowest point of her life. Although her research is finally gaining attention and investors, her husband, Nathan, has left her for another woman, Martine, to whom he is now engaged. On the night we meet Evelyn, she is due to accept the prestigious Neufmann Prize, but despite the endless champagne and congratulatory handshakes from her peers, all she can think about --- aside from her suffocatingly tight expensive gown --- is Martine. On a night that should be about Evelyn and her achievements, Nathan has stolen the spotlight, and everyone wants to know why two attractive, intelligent scientists would break up. With a pit in her stomach and a tightness in her lungs, Evelyn accepts the award and smiles through congratulations until she can get home and settle into her misery in peace.

"Sarah Gailey not only completely upends the cheating husband trope that has gained popularity in recent years, she pushes it to its limits, highlighting the power of good, speculative fiction and reminding readers how the right author can make a trope feel fresh and original."

When Evelyn returns to her lab, her safe place, the next day and finds a message from Martine, she is blindsided. Why would her husband’s fiancée want to drink tea with her, and what --- aside from Nathan --- could they possibly have in common to talk about? Oh right, their genetic makeup. Martine is a near-perfect clone of Evelyn, created by Nathan in secret to be everything Evelyn is not: patient, obedient, gracious and, above all, malleable. Where she differs from Evelyn, she excels; she has not been properly conditioned by exposure to the sun, broken bones, scars or wrinkles. As Martine stands to greet Evelyn, she releases a bombshell: she is pregnant. Martine’s existence is bad enough, but her pregnancy is not only a blow to Evelyn’s pride, but a scientific disaster, as impossible as it is morally fraught. Hurt, angry and terrified of the potential damage Martine and Nathan’s baby could cause to her career, Evelyn asks Martine to wonder why she was really created...and all hell breaks loose.

When Martine calls Evelyn again, Nathan is dead, and Evelyn is compelled to join forces with her in ways that she never imagined. Not only must the two Caldwell wives cover up Nathan’s death, Evelyn must go to terrible, careful lengths to protect her career. The Caldwell method of cloning has been controversial from the start, but it was approved only for the purposes of organ donation, research or body doubles for politicians. The existence of Martine --- and her scientifically impossible pregnancy --- will put Evelyn’s reputation and funding at risk, and she will forever be the scientist whose husband cloned a better her, rather than the brave, intelligent woman who made the science possible. To keep their secret safe, Martine and Evelyn decide that their only option is to clone Nathan...and that’s when things get really crazy.

THE ECHO WIFE is endlessly compelling, but it’s definitely a thriller that you need to enter a bit blind. Luckily for you --- and thanks to the author’s expert command of her plot --- even the summary above provides only the barest of details about this rip-roaring, razor-sharp powerhouse of a book. Sarah Gailey not only completely upends the cheating husband trope that has gained popularity in recent years, she pushes it to its limits, highlighting the power of good, speculative fiction and reminding readers how the right author can make a trope feel fresh and original. By setting her domestic thriller in a science-fiction world, she opens up the discussion for tricky questions about human creation, ethics, self-preservation and the idea of nature versus nurture. With Evelyn leading the way for her naive, new-to-the-world clone, the narrative takes on a bizarre but heartfelt mother-daughter dynamic that adds yet another layer to this complex novel.

The ideas of motherhood via weird science and female partners in crime teaming up against a shortsighted man are, quite simply, exhilarating, but what I found most intriguing about the book were the commentaries on sexism, misogyny and abuse. Gailey never shies away from the fact that even though Martine is Nathan’s creation, it is Evelyn whose career will suffer the most for it, just because she is his scorned wife. And later, as Evelyn and Martine create a careful alliance, Evelyn must unpack her own internalized misogyny as she watches Martine perform her genetically enforced routine of the perfect wife.

In one particularly poignant scene, Martine takes charge of several household tasks that Evelyn has been avoiding, commenting that it was “nothing.” Evelyn feels immediately challenged and believes that Martine is trying to undermine her in her own home, but then slowly realizes that Martine was only acting as she was conditioned to act --- the way that all women have been conditioned to act. Therefore, she must reassess everything she believes about her clone. The resulting queries and realizations have painful connections to Evelyn’s abusive childhood, and the comparisons Gailey draws to ways that abuse conditions and traumatizes brains are some of the best breakdowns of abuse that I have ever read.

Perfect for readers of THE WIFE BETWEEN US and MOTHER KNOWS BEST, THE ECHO WIFE is a breathtaking and fascinating thriller with just enough of a sci-fi edge to keep you on your toes. Don’t let the science scare you away. This character-driven novel is about so much more than genes and DNA. It’s about the emotions and ideas that keep us human, and how systemic inequalities can tear us apart.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 26, 2021

The Echo Wife
by Sarah Gailey