In The Candy House, Jennifer Egan revisits some of the characters from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit From the Good Squad. But The Candy House is less a sequel than a continuation of themes, offering a bold imagining of the lures and drawbacks of technology through a lively assortment of narrative styles.
Bix Bouton, a minor character in Goon Squad, emerges in The Candy House as a staggeringly brilliant tech guru whose casual interest in animal consciousness leads to the creation of his social media company, Mandala. Bix’s groundbreaking product, Own Your Unconscious, allows users to externalize their consciousness to a cubelike device. Taking the concept a step further, his invention Collective Consciousness offers the option of uploading memories to an online database, where they can be shared. This hugely seductive innovation inspires a backlash movement, in which “eluders” wipe their digital footprints or even hide behind false avatars.
From Bix’s life-altering inventions, the novel spirals outward in subsequent chapters, tracking families and friends over decades, digging deeply into the emotional and psychological effects of their private memories being made public. The novel even takes a dystopian turn through the story of Lily, a former spy whose brain has been infiltrated by a government-implanted “weevil.” But for the most part, Egan keeps the novel moving through relatable territory, as universal access to personal memories proves, unsurprisingly, to be as disruptive as it is tantalizing.
Egan’s bold appropriation of narrative styles, like the use of first-person plural and chapters written in tweets and text messages, gives the novel a glittering, kaleidoscopic quality. But Egan’s empathetic interest in human behavior is what drives The Candy House, making it more than just a literary experiment. As Bix’s son Greg points out, you don’t need access to Collective Consciousness to fully experience another person’s memories, thoughts and perceptions; fiction can do the same thing.
A startling novel written by an author at the top of her game, The Candy House never loses sight of fiction’s superpowers.