In Jennifer Egan’s 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “A Visit From the Good Squad,” the goon is time. There is no escaping the passage or ravages of time. That novel of many characters and many narrative threads unfolded in the world of rock music.
In her latest novel, “The Candy House,” the candy house is the digital world: you think it’s free, but there’s always a price to pay when handing over your private information.
The novel features many of the minor characters from Good Squad. Some of the barely-mentioned children are now grown up. Some of the adults are now aged. While you don’t need to have read the Goon Squad to appreciate “The Candy House,” if you had (and I reread GS just recently), you will have a different experience: you will make connections, you will travel through time, you will access your memories of the previous experience—which seems to be the point of the book. The mind doesn’t move in a linear fashion. It jumps around, it wanders, it thinks of a million different things—and “The Candy House” reflects this chaos.
An entrepreneur named Bix develops a new ‘metaverse-type’ service (free, of course) called Own Your Unconscious. It allows you to upload and access every memory you’ve ever had into a Collective Conscious where you can access the memories of others as long as you share your own. Imagine the possibilities—and the troubles. Some of the positives: it’s led to finding lost people and solving cold cases, but it also leaves people vulnerable and exposed through personal revelation. Some people love it; others—eluders—desperately avoid it. It’s basically social media taken to a new dimension.
There is no main character or story arc in the novel. Instead, there are many characters and many stories, which creates a fragmented, disjointed reading experience, and almost a sense of vertigo, which the author certainly intends. Egan is a brilliant writer and her ability to transcend traditional narrative structure is second to none.
Several of the characters and their points of view stood out to me as exceptional and memorable: Lincoln, an autistic “counter” who works with numbers and is pursuing a love interest; and LuLu, a young woman working as a spy who has instructions from her handlers implanted within her. But other characters and their experiences—maybe because there were so many—I quickly forgot and can’t recall, although if I’d had access to such a service as Own Your Unconscious that wouldn’t be a problem.
Easy to read, completely original, and highly variable, Candy House is well worth the investment in time and surely one of the best novels of the year. But I do think the package deal is more rewarding: read “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” then “The Candy House.”