The Candy House

Scribner. Apr. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781476716763. $27. F
Egan returns to the interlocking narrative structure of A Visit from the Goon Squad, once again embracing the distilled power of short fiction in individual chapters while subtly allowing the distinct, imaginative parts to crescendo into a sterling sum. But where her Pulitzer Prize–winning earlier novel proved to be more conceptual in its story’s framework, this work is a more straightforward narrative, albeit rendered wonderfully kaleidoscopic. Egan’s latest broadly centers on a technology called “Own Your Unconscious,” a very near-future innovation that allows individuals to access every memory they’ve ever had and upload them to a collective virtual space in exchange for access to others’ memories if desired. From here, Egan allows her narrative to gyre outward, tracing connected characters across decades and into the crannies of her richly realized world, made all the more portentous for looking only shades different (and darker) than our present one. But nothing here is about mere showmanship; everything is both imaginative and utilitarian, including its shape-shifting style, which regularly jumps between tenses, distinctive voices, and even forms (an epistolary chapter, a chapter of tweets). The result is something of a mosaic, each meticulously rendered chapter feeling nested within the others rather than simply lashed together. Most impressive, however, is the prescience—never resorting to cheap technophobia or didactic moralizing—with which Egan manages to ask: What does it cost us to taste the Candy House?
VERDICT A forceful, wonderfully fragmented novel of a terrifyingly possible future, as intellectually rigorous as it is formally impressive, and yet another monumental work from Egan.
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