Title: The Echo Wife
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: February 16, 2021
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of “Killing Eve” and “Westworld”
Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.
Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.
Wow, do I hate the synopsis for this book! It makes it sound cheap and derivative, and it’s not either of those things!
At under 300 pages, The Echo Wife is a taught, exciting, provocative tale, with not an ounce of wasted space or padding. It’s compelling reading, start to finish… and the synopsis doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Evelyn Caldwell is a highly esteemed pioneer in the field of cloning, at the pinnacle of her career, but with a personal life that’s fallen apart. Her husband Nathan, not as talented as Evelyn, has apparently resented her brilliance, success, and focus on her career for a long time. And as Evelyn learns, Nathan knows just enough to steal her scientific secrets and replicate her research, producing a cloned duplicate of Evelyn whom he’s programmed to be a perfect wife.
Evelyn’s clone Martine appears identical to Evelyn, but Nathan has programmed Martine to be all the things he wants but couldn’t get from Evelyn — a devoted wife, submissive and obedient, living to please, and eager to bear his children. Of course, what he’s done is a huge ethical breach as well as a theft of Evelyn’s research and an absolute betrayal of their marriage.
Evelyn is a brilliant, focused, unemotional woman who lives to find truth in science. Her work in cloning is revolutionary. She’s very clear on the boundaries of her work: Clones are produced for a purpose — they’re not people, they’re scientific material. If one is faulty, it becomes biowaste. They’re grown in a lab, programmed for specific types of brain patterns to create the desired cognition, and “conditioned” to match the original. Conditioning is a particularly disturbing part of the creation of clones, and a step that causes Evelyn to lose multiple lab assistants. Since clones are produced fresh and new, to become convincing duplicates, their bodies must be conditioned to match the original, meaning scars, missing organs, teeth, and limbs, and other physical defects must be replicated. Yes, this is just as gross as it sounds, but serves as a visceral example of how Evelyn views clones as laboratory materials, not people.
Martine’s very existence throws a wrench into Evelyn’s carefully ordered scientific approach. She can’t convince herself that Martine isn’t a person, not when Martine starts to grown and ask questions and think for herself. The more entangled Evelyn becomes with Martine, the more she’s forced to face certain truths about herself, her work, and what it actually means — and face her own troubled childhood and accept how it’s affected her and programmed her to be who she is.
I didn’t forge the tool. I just wanted to use it effectively. That didn’t make me a monster. It wasn’t wrong of me, wishing she would behave as she’d been designed to.
The Echo Wife also provides a scathing commentary on the odiousness of the sexism that women in science face. Even at the height of her success, at a celebration in honor of her achievements, Evelyn is subjected to mansplaining and interruptions from male colleagues who feel a need to correct her.
Evelyn is not what society as a whole might consider a likeable woman. She’s sanded away all the softness and uncertainty from her public persona. She’s polished, professional, unapologetic, straightforward, no fidgeting, no second-guessing. But when Martine enters her life, Evelyn sees all the pieces her husband found lacking — Martine is pleasing and sweet, and always mindful of what she’s for.
There’s no winning. Either I’m a bitch who needs to control everything, or I’m an easy mark.
Martine wasn’t just a manifestation of my failure to create a foolproof cloning model. She wasn’t just a symbol of my failure to hang on to a man who had been good when I met him. Before he married me.
She was also a consequence of my failure to keep a handle on things.
The plot of The Echo Wife is complex and constantly surprising, with big shocking revelations as well as smaller moments that are just as unsettling and powerful. The intricacies of the moral dilemmas represented by Evelyn’s and Martine’s connections are truly mesmerizing, and their shifting power dynamics can be mind-boggling.
While overall more psychological than bloody, there are some moments that seem to lean more heavily toward horror, and even the matter-of-fact description of the cloning process can be pretty gruesome, especially when presented in such a cut-and-dried fashion.
Sarah Gailey’s writing is always surprising and powerful, and The Echo Wife is no exception. I found it fascinating, and recommend it highly.
Check out this insightful interview with the author on Goodreads for more on The Echo Wife.
And a final note — please ignore the obligatory hype-machine comparisons to Big Little Lies, Westworld, etc. It’s its own thing, and is actually far better than the books and TV shows it’s being compared to!