Review: “The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan

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“Goon Squad” used a number of narrative thrift stores. One chapter, for example, was told in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. In this novel, a chapter is a series of textual exchanges. Lulu’s adventure as a secret agent – I was completely enthralled – is told as a series of short, terse directives, as if from headquarters.

These start off serious (“Your goal is to be part of its atmosphere”) and turn increasingly dire: “The houses of the violent rich have excellent first-aid cabinets.” Egan doesn’t need these toys, but she’s comfortable with them.

I forgot a lot of things: there is an academic who studies authenticity and the cliché; a drug-battered elite Chicago lawyer, spiraling down like a corkscrew, then given a second chance; a man so intolerant of falsification and hungry for real answers that he shouts out loud on public transport just to gauge the reaction; girls whose enigmatic mother left them to do the fieldwork in Brazil that led to the cube. If any of Egan’s characters exit through a window, she will return through the door.

It’s all rolled up together; almost everyone is connected in some way. It’s too much, except it’s not.

Egan has a sense of zoned control; she knows where she’s going and what polyphonic effects she wants, and she gets them, as if she’s writing on a type of MacBook that won’t exist for a decade.

“The Candy House” and “Goon Squad” are seminal New York City and tech novels (literary trivia: Egan dated Steve Jobs) of our time; they will be printed in one volume some day, I suppose, by the Library of America.

I could say, I suppose, that the corners of this novel are too sharp, that it lacks a certain weight and a certain drift. The cube’s implications for sexual habits, both online and offline, are curiously omitted. And the end is sweet tapioca.

Always check your wallet when a writer goes all-in, like Egan does here, about the power of storytelling and fiction. “The Candy House” makes this case simply by existing.

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