At one moment in Thomas Pynchon's novel named after them, Mason and Dixon pause to wonder what history's verdict on their most famous work is likely to be, its 'assessment of the Good resulting from this Line, vis-à-vis the not-so-good'. A voice, apparently coming from nowhere, says: 'You wonder? That's all? What about "care"? Don't you care?' The surveyors explain to the voice that surveying is what they do. They have clients, they meet their clients' requests. Just doing their job. There aren't too many significant resemblances between Pynchon and Richard Powers - Powers's imagination is deeply invested in the local and in Pynchon the local is always about to become something else - but the passage about the Line and the Good finds an interesting and no doubt unintended commentary in The Echo Maker. A woman reads a series of books about strange mental conditions by a fictional writer not entirely without resemblance to Oliver Sacks. She greatly admires the books but is even more amazed by the selfless devotion of the friend who drew her attention to them. 'She was in Daniel's debt again . . . And she, once again, had given him nothing . . . Of all the alien, damaged brain states this writing doctor described, none was as strange as care.'
LRB 22 February 2007 | PDF Download