Pam Parker, Circulation Manager, recommends The Candy House by Jennifer Egan.
The Candy House (2022): Highly recommended for those that like to wax philosophic and unravel complex plots as they read. Be prepared for a dose of gritty reality.
Jennifer Egan’s newest work of fiction, The Candy House, is unusual.
Published as a novel, it reads more like a series of related short stories. A number of the characters appear in several stories but at different periods of their lives. Egan also revisits some favorites characters from her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, which makes this technically a sequel though it can be read as a stand-alone.
The net effect is a fascinating exploration of the near future where a technology akin to the internet increasingly impacts people’s lives. A candy house is a drug house in urban lingo. But the premise of this novel involves a mind-tapping cube that downloads memories. Hence, Egan seems to be asking us, ‘Has technology become our drug of choice?’
We meet again with Bix Bouton, the young engineering student from Goon Squad. He found mega-success as the founder of Mandala, a social media company inspired by behavioral theories of Miranda Kline, a reclusive anthropologist. He goes on to develop a revolutionary new service, “Own Your Consciousness” that lets people download and share their memories in exchange for access to others’ memories. While an alluring idea on the surface, it obviously bodes ill for some who recover what perhaps was better left forgotten.
The Candy House is clearly a metaphor for the addictive lure of the internet and social media. Egan seems to be asking us what role memory has in our consciousness – and how augmenting it will impact the human experience. Not coincidentally, the most evolved characters in The Candy House find solace in academia and art – and an underground emerges that aids people who decide to ‘opt-out’ of The Collective.
This complex, insightful work may demand deep reading and perhaps a return to The Visit from the Goon Squad (FICTION Egan, 2010) to fully appreciate. But curious readers will be rewarded with plenty of mind candy along the way.