Candy House evaluation: Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad sequel sticks the touchdown

Time is a goon, marauding and thieving and harsh. But the 12 years which have passed by since Jennifer Egan printed her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad have handled that ebook with kindness. Playful, bold, and formally ingenious, Goon Squad stands as a mannequin for what the up to date novel could possibly be and sometimes isn’t: a ebook that units out to precise one thing new, and builds itself an entirely new kind with which to take action.

Now Egan has launched what she’s calling “a sibling novel” to A Visit From the Goon Squad titled The Candy House, which borrows its sprawling construction and quite a few its characters from its predecessor. But the place studying Goon Squad felt like watching a circus acrobat pull off a flip you’ve by no means seen earlier than, The Candy House has a subtler pleasure. Reading this ebook is like watching Simone Biles execute a trick that she’s crafted and polished and honed to perfection. You already know she will be able to do it, so now the pleasure is in watching the small print. Every little nuance works.

The structural innovation Egan made with A Visit From the Goon Squad and repeats right here with The Candy House is deceptively easy. It’s the novel as daisy chain: Each chapter picks up the viewpoint of a supporting character from a earlier chapter, taking us from the thoughts of a strung-out report producer to his recovering addict daughter to her annoying D&D-playing sober companion. We hopscotch throughout time, assembly the identical characters time and again, refracted via the lenses of dozens of various factors of view. In 2010, Goon Squad dazzled readers with its well-known PowerPoint chapter; in Candy House, Egan’s nice format twist comes with a chapter informed as a discipline information for spies.

Technically talking, The Candy House stands by itself, and should you learn it with out ever cracking the quilt on Goon Squad, it’s going to all make sense. If you method it that means, nonetheless, you’ll most probably discover the climax, which sees a number of Goon Squad characters briefly falling again into their previous configurations, touchdown somewhat flat. The Candy House relies upon for its emotional oomph not simply in your having learn Goon Squad, however in your reminiscences of Goon Squad being crisp and clear — which is smart, as a result of whereas Goon Squad was about time, Candy House is about reminiscences.

It’s additionally about know-how, that “candy house” that retains attractive us to surrender little items of ourselves to nameless corporations. And it’s about novels themselves, what we get out of them, and — you are feeling for Egan right here — how extremely intimidating they’re to put in writing.

The Candy House begins with Bix, who we final met in Goon Squad as a superb Black grad scholar within the early ’90s, evangelizing to his classmates concerning the oncoming wonders of the online. Now it’s 2010, and Bix runs a social media empire. He’s grow to be a cultural icon, a Steve Jobs-like determine as famed for his fashion predilections (zoot swimsuit, leather-based hat) as for his technological work.

But Bix has developed a concern. Like a novelist staring down the follow-up to the ebook that made him well-known, Bix has grow to be afraid that he gained’t have the ability to make one thing else nearly as good as his social media community was. He constructed his title on a purloined educational principle about mapping the connections and relationships between human beings. How can he pull off the identical trick twice?

Bix finds his means ahead with one other scholarly idea. Upon listening to that lecturers have developed a approach to “externalize” animal consciousness, Bix develops a tool that enables customers to add the whole contents of their reminiscences and share them within the searchable cloud-based format that involves be known as the Collective Consciousness.

The worldbuilding prospects listed here are heady, however Egan gestures at them quite than getting too into the weeds. In a couple of brisk sentences, we study that the Collective Consciousness, Facebook-like, involves be helpful for each reuniting with previous buddies and for legislation enforcement. There’s a half-submerged subplot about “eluders” — individuals who preserve their lives off the web, who finally come to be thought-about harmful renegades — however principally, Egan is within the human-scale penalties of searchable, uploadable reminiscences.

One lady revisits a much-cherished childhood journey via her father’s eyes, solely to recoil away from his dismissive reactions to her. A “counter” working for an information harvesting firm flinches squeamishly away from his skilled obligation to have a look at different individuals’s reminiscences. A citizen spy develops a paranoid perception that the federal government is her reminiscences even when she by no means uploaded them to the Collective Consciousness.

There’s a sure skilled envy at work right here, a form of territorial protectiveness. We reside in an period of unprecedented entry to different individuals’s minds, to the day by day detritus of human beings’ ideas. Does this entry — Egan asks, via the metaphor of the Collective Consciousness — truly make us higher at understanding each other? Or are we higher off with the novel, that previous, previous know-how for empathy?

It in all probability gained’t shock you that this novel comes down arduous for novels because the successful possibility. But it’s arduous to begrudge Egan’s resolution at hand herself a win. Like A Visit From the Goon Squad earlier than it, sweeping, kaleidoscopic Candy House greater than makes its case.

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