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.
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.