It is no secret that I have adored Sarah Gailey’s writing ever since I picked up a copy of Magic for Liars at Bookcon in New York in 2019. Since then, all of their novels and novellas have been very highly rated reads for me and The Echo Wife is no exception.
Out in February 2021, this is the story of Evelyn Caldwell, a scientist working on cloning technology and her clone Martine, whom her husband is having an affair with. Inconveniently, said husband has had an unfortunate run in with a knife… But never fear, Evelyn invented cloning, after all! Together, the women come up with a plan to ensure no one has to know about this unfortunate incident. In the process, they discover more about themselves, their lives and their shared husband than they bargained for.
Taking a simple concept, Gailey manages to masterfully turn it into an emotionally charged story full of considerations about one’s role in life and the meaning of life more generally. The Echo Wife took me apart and broke my heart several times over and I devoured it like the masochist I am. I couldn’t put the story down.
Evelyn and Martine, clones, are utterly different people, but both fully fleshed out with their wants and desires, flaws and all. Together, they grew and challenged each other to reconsider their firmly held beliefs about life. While marriage theoretically stands at the centre of The Echo Wife, it is empathically not a love story. It is far closer to the autopsy of a marriage long dead, trying to establish the time and cause of death. The relationship between Evelyn and Martine becomes the crucial turning point of The Echo Wife, the axis on which the book revolves. From meeting as estranged rivals to partners in crime to something like a strange sisterhood, the two women’s lives become irreversibly intertwined. Moral questions abound, as do philosophical considerations.
Nevertheless, The Echo Wife isn’t a slow-burning literary novel. At a relatively short 250 pages, Gailey’s newest packs a punch. Tension is kept high throughout and revelations hit hard. It is not the most speculative of Science Fiction works, and the speculative elements are more window dressing than anything else – the central themes of The Echo Wife are what it means to be human, and why one chooses to live the way one does. It is a brilliant book and I highly recommend it – one of the easiest five-star ratings I’ve given all year. But beware, The Echo Wife is a book that emotionally destroys you.