The Echo Room: Begins better than it ends (or middles)

The Echo Room by Parker PeevyhouseThe Echo Room by Parker PeevyhouseThe Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

In The Echo Room (2018), which is sort of a Groundhog Day meets The Maze Runner, Parker Peevyhouse takes on one of the most difficult narratives for an author — the time loop story. Unfortunately, while Peevyhouse has her moments, the time loop comes out victorious.

The story opens up intriguingly enough, when Rett Ward wakes up in a strange and seemingly abandoned building with no memory of how he got there, blood on his clothes, and a scar across his head. Equally disconcerting is that someone else, a girl named Brynn, is trapped in there with him, also with no memories and also with a scar. The two explore the place warily, neither sure if they can trust the other (Brynn, seeing the blood on Rett’s clothes, has good reason to be suspicious), but eventually something happens and Rett blacks out (or is knocked out). To wake up back in the same building, with no memory of having been there before. Or of having met Brynn when he begins exploring and comes across her yet again. As you might guess from both the title and the above reference to Groundhog Day, this happens more than once. And that’s all I will say about the plot, as any more would be too spoilerish.

To start with the positives, as noted, the beginning is captivating both in the underlying mystery of how/why Rett is where he is and also in the great tension between him and Brynn. The tension remains high for some time even as we move through various incarnations of these events. Also a plus is the way that tiny variations in the events — such as Rett changing out of his bloodstained clothing before meeting Brynn for the “first” time changes their interactions and what comes next. This was probably my favorite aspect of The Echo Room. And then, well, there’s the rub.

Parker Peevyhouse

One of the reasons the time loop is so hard is due to the inherent repetitive nature of the plot. Groundhog Day worked out of that problem mostly thanks to its humor and the strength of Bill Murray’s characterization. Unfortunately, both are lacking here. Peevyhouse does aim for some witty banter, but it feels forced (to be fair, much of the time it’s clear it is forced due to the situation, but still). And neither character here is particularly compelling or even, I’d say, fully three-dimensional. We’re told of Rett’s sick mother, his bitterness over being left a ward of the state, about his being bullied — but I can’t say I ever truly felt any of those things; they dropped into the story more like a checklist of attributes rather than feeling woven into the very nature of the character. Similarly, Brynn is given a few character traits — a boyfriend, trust issues, she steals — but it all feels very abstract. And so the repetitive plot doesn’t have much to save it from feeling, well, repetitive.

As the plot does fill out and we start to learn some of those details I’m not going to share, the story starts to lose power, feeling a bit jumbled and random, rushes some things, and feels very thinly backgrounded. It doesn’t fully hang together or, to be honest, completely make sense to me, and just sort of peters out.

In the end, The Echo Room doesn’t fulfill the promise of its premise or its first few chapters and so I can’t recommend it.

Published in September 2018. Parker Peevyhouse’s The Echo Room is a smart, claustrophobic, speculative young adult thriller with an immersive psychological mystery. The only thing worse than being locked in is facing what you locked out. Rett Ward knows how to hide. He’s had six years of practice at Walling Home, the state-run boarding school where he learned how to keep his head down to survive. But when Rett wakes up locked in a small depot with no memory of how he got there, he can’t hide. Not from the stranger in the next room. Or from the fact that there’s someone else’s blood on his jumpsuit. Worse, every time he tries to escape, he wakes up right back where he started. Same day, same stranger, same bloodstained jumpsuit. As memories start to surface, Rett realizes that the logo on the walls is familiar, the stranger isn’t a stranger, and the blood on his jumpsuit belongs to someone—or something—banging on the door to get in.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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4 comments

  1. Wow, this structure would be so hard to pull off convincingly.

  2. I can think of more failures using this structure than successes — though notable successes, to my mind, include Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s light novel “All You Need is Kill” and its film adaptation, “Edge of Tomorrow.” It’s clearly a challenging structure for storytellers and I admire them for trying (even if the results don’t always match their ambitions).

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