Book Notes: Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House

There’s supposed to be some vaguely sci-fi component of Shoshana-Zuboff-ish inspiration to this novel but it’s only a pretext for Egan to do what she really wants, which is write loosely connected short stories about life, love, family and loss. There’s some very (VERY) mild experimentation with narrative forms but the book remains extremely readable and engrossing.

Like all literature in English published in the past 20 years (and I mean serious literature only), this novel pretends that the world is inhabited exclusively by very rich people. Everybody in the novel is very rich and experiences the typical problems of very rich people. I’m guessing these very rich people come across drivers, nannies, cooks, mowers, and waiters in their lives but all that is absent from the novel. Nobody who isn’t seriously wealthy makes an appearance. It gets really funny at times. For instance, one of the characters visits his old abuela who’s an immigrant from Honduras.

“Ah, finally a regular person!” you think with a sense of relief.

Then two sentences later it comes out that the Honduran abuela made a fortune investing in Bitcoin and her biggest problem is how to prevent anybody from stealing her Mondrian painting. Although I have no idea who’d want to engage in theft in this world of very rich people.

Another problem is that Egan peppers the book (especially in the first couple of chapters) with nods of obeisance to wokeness, having her very rich characters think things like “as a straight white male I have experienced numerous advantages in life.”

You’d assume after this description that the novel sucks. But that’s not true. It’s an excellent novel. Egan is talented. I wish she took a trip somewhere where normal people lived and spent some time with them. Then she could write about something more worthwhile. But that’s every writer in English. Even Richard Russo hasn’t written about people who struggle to pay bills and worry about credit card debt in decades.

What’s very interesting to me is that in spite of the obligatory woke prattle thrown in here and there, Egan is a writer of clearly conservative sensibilities. Whether she is conscious of that or not, I have no idea. But it’s very much there in the novel.

Egan won a Pulitzer for a previous novel. I haven’t read that one yet but after reading The Candy House, I’m sure it was well-deserved. This is a person of great literary skill and considerable talent. That we have no place in our culture for her to write about normal people is our shared problem.


Burlap & Barrel‘s wild mountain cumin from Afghanistan is so good, I’m starting to think they grow it right next to their poppy fields. The cumin is so fresh and fragrant, it’s downright addictive.

Their pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) is also superb. There is no such thing as medium-quality paprika. It’s either horrid (which is most of the time) or sensational.

Real Introvert

We are going to Florida for two weeks, and Klara has already stipulated with me the number of days she’ll forego the beach and stay in her room alone, playing and listening to her books. I have a feeling that in spite of her shockingly good people’s skills she’s an introvert. You’ve got to be an introvert to prepare for a long-awaited family vacation with a large family group and think about how you will need alone days so well in advance, right?

I wonder if introversion and extraversion are genetic. People skills clearly aren’t as evidenced by the fact that N and I produced an extremely popular, friendly child. N and I weren’t popular in our school years to the extent that is almost comical. When I ask N, “so what were your friends like in high school?”, he asks “Friends?”” with the same sincerest dazed look as if I asked about the name of his pet crocodile.