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The Candy House


The Candy House

THE CANDY HOUSE is a book about a lot of different things. Every chapter is a memory of some sort explained to us in a unique voice. And the memories are courtesy of Bix Bouton’s new technological marvel, a super-tech perverted version of a Hogwarts Pensieve. This particular app allows you to access every memory you’ve ever had and share your own. In return, you are able to access the memories of others. Bix is a bigshot, a Steve Jobs-type whose lost dreads cause Samson-like anxiety about his ability to stay at the top of his tech game. However, he then creates “Own Your Unconscious,” and every person in this book lets us get a look at their prized memories.

"It’s a whole lot of book, and it offers an Easter basket filled with every kind of candy you might want in a contemporary semi-science fiction narrative."

Jennifer Egan is a highly lauded superstar author. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD and MANHATTAN BEACH were heaped with praise. Since the former was so revered by readers and critics alike, many of the characters you will find in this book first came to exist in that world. So much has been written about tech’s golden gods, real or otherwise, that I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that it wasn’t going to be just some Google spinoff guy’s adventures in 21st-century creativity. It is, however, a strange mixed bag of memories, especially since we don’t have to sacrifice anything but digital cash in order to gain entrance into these characters’ subconscious.

There is a family with three brothers --- one who everyone forgets about, one who is probably autistic, and one for whom life has been a bounty of good fortune. There are texts, letters, lists and every possible way to communicate stories. There are people with kids and those who are childless, people who want kids and those who hate others who have them. There are marriages fostered and marriages destroyed. It’s a whole lot of book, and it offers an Easter basket filled with every kind of candy you might want in a contemporary semi-science fiction narrative.

I don’t really think I would classify THE CANDY HOUSE as science fiction. Even though the app and what it allows people to do is kind of futuristic, there is an underlying message here about trauma, memories and mental health. Mental health is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. Improving the ways in which we treat mental health problems big and small are imperative in today’s world. But there is a sense here that Egan, the fiction writer, wants us to recognize that everyone has their issues. Everyone is neurodivergent in some way, and there is no normal. As she wrests the idea of normalcy from us, she presents a multicolored realistic mural of all the ways in which our most prevalent memories just may be the ones from our most difficult times.

In that respect, in her inventive but easy-to-read style, Egan offers us her own response to the mental hits that we all took during the pandemic. Trouble is whatever we define it as. Trauma is unique to each of us, yet our own trauma is recognizable to others whose trauma may take a different form. For the characters in THE CANDY HOUSE, from young to old, the first cut is the deepest, and what lies beneath our everyday civility is always our younger selves yelling out for some understanding, love or mystical thing that we didn’t get as children. This is what makes the book such a fascinating read.

The brain is the breeding ground for so much of who we are at any point in our lives. No amount of technology is going to make that any different. It can only work to show it that much clearer to each human being. However, as our topsy-turvy world continues to revolve toward its darkest side, we don’t really need anyone to tell us that now.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on April 15, 2022

The Candy House
by Jennifer Egan

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1476716773
  • ISBN-13: 9781476716770