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Sarah Gailey’s ‘The Echo Wife’ echoes ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘The Stepford Wives’

By Ron Sylvester For The Spokesman Review

Most people have joked or fanaticized about being able to clone themselves. Oh, how much they could get done by being able to be two places at once.

Sarah Gailey brings that fantasy to life with one bizarre twist. What if your spouse or significant other programmed your clone with all of the changes they would like to make to you – without your permission?

With “The Echo Wife,” Gailey pulls together two simple human qualities: the desire to have a second set of hands and the habit of trying to change the person we love into what we’d rather they be. If only they’d just … well, that’s certainly one way many promising relationships start to end.

Having someone try and remake their partner into the image they imagine can be scary enough. Gailey shows us what might happen if they succeed.

Evelyn Caldwell lives that nightmare. She’s the successful scientist who has finally perfected human cloning. Yet these replicas are not fully developed, serving small purposes of a bigger need but not capable of taking over for the humans they serve.

Then Martine appears. Martine is Evelyn’s genetic clone made from her own heralded research – stolen by her husband. See, Evelyn is too wrapped up in her work to start a family. Nathan, her husband, desperately wants children.

A scientist in his own right who went the academic route, Nathan secretly makes Martine using his wife’s own laboratory discoveries. His goal is to make a more perfect wife. He creates Evelyn’s replacement.

Part science fiction, part mystery thriller, Gailey has concocted a contemporary Frankenstein story where the creation cannot turn out to be as perfect as the creator hopes.

The plot twists are so delightfully strange, it would be anticlimactic to explain too much about this story. Even the dust jacket summary gives too many details away. The reader should simply follow Gailey’s smooth narrative.

Gailey centers the story around the relationship of Evelyn and her own clone, in which she sees herself and the wife Nathan wanted her to be. The other characters, including Nathan, live in the shadows. All we learn about them comes from the eyes of Evelyn and Martine.

Even the back stories exist in dark corners. We learn, for instance, that Evelyn had an abusive childhood that foreshadows Martine’s unpredictably violent tendencies. But Gailey leaves details to our imagination, which makes the story as creepy as we want to make it.

As the story’s narrator, Evelyn struggles with the challenges of confidence presented after seeing her own clone in the flesh. Although Evelyn knows better, she’s constantly questioning whether Martine is really a better version of herself.

“The Echo Wife” is a breezy read at 253 pages that is halting with breathless turns and an ending that will leave you shuddering.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a controlling person who wanted you to fit their image, then “The Echo Wife” could be downright terrifying.

Ron Sylvester is a longtime journalist who lives in Kansas and reviews books for The Spokesman-Review.

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