This week we’re taking a closer look at Powell’s Pick of the Month The Candy House by Jennifer Egan.
I spend a lot of time thinking about books as houses — containers for stories within stories living alongside other stories, physical spaces where the story can change depending on the angle you look at it from. A love story looks different when it’s moved from a softly lit, cluttered kitchen into a study, surrounded by mahogany bookshelves, light slanting in through wide, dormer windows.
I spend a lot of time thinking about this.
So it’s a welcome surprise when a book says, “I see this structure you’ve built up for me, but I’ve got some renovations in mind.”
Which is exactly what Jennifer Egan’s latest, The Candy House
, the follow-up to her beloved A Visit From the Goon Squad
, does. Like in Goon Squad
, The Candy House
jumps through time and between characters and form; here, though, Egan is exploring the ripple effects caused by a company called Own Your Unconscious, a company that provides its users access to every memory they’ve had, as well as the memories others have shared.
Rather than using this tech as the central plot point, Egan uses it as a tool to access what she really wants to talk about: storytelling and nostalgia (writing a sequel is itself an act of nostalgia!), topics that would be heavy in any other author’s hands, but not in Egan’s. This book is filled with a sense of play, as its characters intersect with and interrupt each other, their lives tangling and unspooling and fraying.
This book is filled with a sense of play, as its characters intersect with and interrupt each other, their lives tangling and unspooling and fraying.
This type of Black Mirror
-adjacent world is often depicted in movies and books as dystopic, but Egan builds it out with a contradictory, empathetic humanity. There are characters who refuse the technology, who react to it by leaning into the authentic (what’s more authentic than migrating birds?), who use it and discard it and question it. Throughout, her characters search for connection, across continents and media channels, despite a world that works to pull them apart.
The titular candy house is a refrain throughout the book: never trust a candy house! It’s a portal — this access to memories, this new technology — used to “lure in a new generation and bewitch them.” But The Candy House
isn’t a candy house; it’s tricky and slippery, spangled and barbed, filled with “a galaxy of human lives….infinite and particular.”
So: here’s the front door, the entryway always bright with sunshine. Explore the rooms, but be careful — the floor might go out beneath you.