Coma, confusion and character. Mark Schluter had all three. In Richard Powers’ powerful novel The Echo Maker — recent winner of the prestigious National Book Award — Mark is the victim of a mysterious crash that leaves him comatose and confused, and needing every bit of his toughness and character.

In the first few hours of his living nightmare, an anonymous person leaves Mark a note at his hospital bedside:

I am No One but Tonight on North Line Road GOD led me to you so You could Live and bring back someone else.

Mark and his caregivers attempt to find the author of this mysterious note, in hope of answers to how and why Mark’s life suddently turned tragic. Mark not only suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) — he has a specific subset known as Capgras in which the victim cannot identify certain people, including loved ones (here Mark’s beloved sister). The tragedy expands — Mark’s sister gives him constant care, but Mark wonders who she is and why his sister is for the first time not there when he really needs her.

All readers will be intrigued by the mysteries of the book — the mystery of who authored the note, and why; the mystery of Capgras and the vagaries of the traumatized human brain: and the mystery of what happens to a burned-out journalist and an ivory-tower cognitive neurologist when they realize that they are living their own version of taking photographs of human misery without seeing the human in misery.

I read this book as a trial lawyer representing victims of brain injury, but at the book’s end I — like the journalist and neurologist in The Echo Maker — was challenged once again to embrace and not ignore the human in human misery. We trial lawyers representing victims of brain injury have duties but also a real blessing in accompanying these courageous victims in their struggles and triumphs. The blessing is not that God leads us to them for their sake, but that God leads them to us for our sake. We see them live, and we even see them “bring back someone else.”

For additional details, comments or questions, please call me — Doug Wessel — at 703-904-7900, or send your e-mail to me at

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