Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House Review – Information Overload | Jennifer Egan

jEnnifer Egan became famous with the 2011 Pulitzer Prize A visit from the Goon Squad, a twisting, multi-generational saga centered around a multi-platinum record producer, Bennie Salazar. The peculiar title referred to the ravages of time; Once part of the 1970s band Flaming Dildos, Bennie finds herself in the book’s quietly futuristic ending that caters primarily to “pointers,” tablet-wielding preschoolers whose tastes are the number one driver of revenue in an industry altered beyond recognition.

the house of sweets, eganThe follow-up to , also runs through a large cast, this time from the 1990s to the 2030s, and once again has its eyes set on the Internet (the title refers to the allure of free-to-use online services that we are sneakily turned into the product, the echo of “the White House” presumably intended as a suggestion of where the real power now resides). I like it thug squadchanges reality a bit more: This is an America where, in a high-tech shot, 21-year-olds are urged to upload their memories to protect against brain injury.

Fertile ground, to be sure, but Egan has ideas to burn, and in this novel that’s what he does: his painstakingly constructed backdrop has little impact on the book’s drama, poorly served by characters reduced to one feature. Recall 13-year-old Lincoln, whose obsessive cataloging of “great rock’n’roll breaks” was recorded by his younger sister in a series of PowerPoint slides, thug squadThe most striking narrative trick? Lincoln, now in his twenties, has his own chapter, but his hyper-attention (previously the focus of a glimpse between the lines of family life) is now just a distinct tic, as he longs for a colleague who “wears bands to her hair 24 percent of the time, scrunchies 28 percent of the time, and her hair down 48 percent of the time.”

Lincoln works in data mining (of course) and his story features a background action involving privacy activists known as “circumsiders”, who implant “weevils” into the brains of tech employees, electronic mind control bugs that Egan continues explaining up to 20 pages. from the end, a sign of how little the book’s gimmicks ultimately contribute. There’s a dearth of the human moments that made thug squad effervescence; Bennie feels like a fish out of water at his upstate country club, for example, or his assistant Sasha hiding kleptomania from him. Here, the action is seen through gauze: Witness the chapter set in 2032 about a “citizen agent” programmed by a shadowy government agency, told as 30 two-column pages of bullet-point dictation from his drivers.

You sense the laborious scaffolding of the novel as the narrator of a mid-1960s interlude asks, “How do I know all this? I was only six years old… How dare I invent across abysses of gender, age and cultural context? She’s accessing the “Collective Consciousness” of a rapacious tech giant, turns out Google has buttons on, basically, and you suspect Egan is just telling us that so she can write East: “Getting that information is possibly more presumptuous than it would have been to invent it. Choose your poison: if it is not allowed to imagine, then we will all have to resort to gray grips” (a quick way to capture the memory).

That thought is more than enough on its own to fuel the kind of topically chewy novel Egan seems to want to write. But after a long editing, it is left aside and the feeling grows that the expository weight of the novel demands too much. By far the most enjoyable chapter unfolds as a belated exchange of emails between several thug squad he strives to revive his reputation by cashing in on the fortune of an aging actor seeking a comeback of his own. At last, the book breathes: not only do we get the heady rear view of the celebrity who was part of thug squadbut, more importantly, we relax into a rare moment of real-time interaction between characters who would otherwise be mired in private recapitulation.

Perhaps the book’s biggest problem (and its point, if you’re being generous) is that Silicon Valley will never be rock’n’roll. Either way, the privacy and authenticity conundrums of the digital age have been best addressed in novels like The circle Y Clara and the sun. As for the question of whether you can read the house of sweets no first reading A visit from the Goon Squadwell…if you haven’t, you’ll probably be baffled, but perhaps a lot less disappointed than readers who have.

the house of sweets by Jennifer Egan is published by Corsair (£20). to support the guardian Y Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply

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