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.

8 thoughts on “Book Notes: Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House

  1. I tip I found about buying books on Samsungs. If you install the Kindle app from the Galaxy Store instead of the Play store, you can still buy books.

    Like

  2. A tip I found about buying books on Samsungs. If you install the Kindle app from the Galaxy store instead of the Play Store, you can still buy books.

    Like

  3. I tried reading her last novel several times but couldn’t get into it, I found the characters totally annoying. It sounds like those rich people might be quite annoying too. 🙂 But maybe that is the point?
    Have you read anything by Rachel Cusk? She’s one of my favourite writers. I don’t remember if you ever reviewed one of her books.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Outline” is her best novel, in my opinion, but the entire Outline trilogy is great. “Second Place”, which just came out earlier this year, is very interesting too. All these novels have a very complex female main character. And the writing is just incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

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