Another is introduced as an outsider visiting a country club in the suburbs; in the next chapter, she uses her adolescent gifts to infiltrate the lives of strangers during a real-life spy mission in 2032, her body outfitted with subcutaneous electronics that turn her into a sort of human smartphone. The final chapter is written entirely in second person, in the voice of a field controller’s instructions, which grow wistful as the agent uploads sensitive data through a gate in her foot: “You will feel a wave as the data floods your body. The wave can contain memory, heat, cold, desire, pain or even joy.”
Egan is a one-man language R&D department. (One of her characters uses the term ‘word casings’ for words that have been overused until they become like ‘a grenade without a bullet.’ Egan only fires live rounds.) One chapter,’l, the Protagonist,” follows a former English major hired to algebraically render story scenarios for an entertainment start-up, a mindset that permeates his life. When a taxi driver strands him after a disagreement, Egan puts it this way:
But a schism had developed between a and l
LOL. Our friend l, BTW, is Chris Salazar, son of Bennie Salazar, the punk rocker turned music manager and going up and down in “Goon Squad”. While “The Candy House” is full of such connections and returns, you don’t really need to have read “Goon Squad” to follow it. But there’s no need to deny yourself the fun, and the thematic connections may even be more important than the plot weave.
Just as the characters of Egan’s music world have been obsessed with authenticity, art and sales, her “Candy House” characters seek the real self in an era where people are constantly called upon to act themselves digitally. They are writing a dissertation on ‘authenticity in the digital age’. Another goes a more direct route, developing the habit of yelling in public places to catch the slightest glimpse of unprepared human reactions.
This compulsion puts a strain on his social relationships, but who doesn’t drive a little crazy with digital life? Time and again, Egan’s characters erupt, seemingly beyond repair, but they manage to find redemption. “The Candy House” takes its title from a repeated metaphor for seduction: the lures of amusement and nostalgia that lead Hansel and Gretel us into a building made of spun sugar where we can eat ourselves and in which we – our desires, our memories – stand. also on the menu.
If “The Candy House” is less cohesive than “Goon Squad,” it may be because the subject is harder to understand. The story describes not so much an arc as a network diagram; it doesn’t stop, it stops. The biggest criticism I can make of “The Candy House” is that it kicks us out just when it seems to start.
But that’s also the strongest praise I can give it. Egan knows that she can never give a complete picture of global consciousness, only a suggestive impression. The challenge of a novel whose subject is in a sense everything is knowing what to leave out, a dilemma that “The Candy House” repeatedly acknowledges. “Knowing everything is too much as knowing nothing; without a story, it’s all just information†
One response to the overload of this changed world is the writing of fiction, which, like Own Your Unconscious, also exists to tap into memory and make connections between lives and deaths. Notably, Bix holds onto a weathered copy of “Ulysses,” James Joyce’s hundred-year-old attempt at weaving a global web between two covers. “The Candy House” is much more accessible, but it’s also an ambitious attempt to bring back an infinite network on a human scale. To which I say, in the language of our true collective consciousness: Liked and subscribed.