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Reviews of The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

The Candy House

A Visit from the Goon Squad #2

by Jennifer Egan

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan X
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2023, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

Book Summary

From one of the most celebrated writers of our time, a literary figure with cult status, a "sibling novel" to her Pulitzer Prize- and ​NBCC Award-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad - an electrifying, deeply moving novel about the quest for authenticity and meaning in a world where memories and identities are no longer private.

The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is "one of those tech demi-gods with whom we're all on a first name basis." Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or "externalizing" memory. It's 2010. Within a decade, Bix's new technology, "Own Your Unconscious"—that allows you access to every memory you've ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.

In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. In the world of Egan's spectacular imagination, there are "counters" who track and exploit desires and there are "eluders," those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets.

If Goon Squad was organized like a concept album, The Candy House incorporates Electronic Dance Music's more disjunctive approach. The parts are titled: Build, Break, Drop. With an emphasis on gaming, portals, and alternate worlds, its structure also suggests the experience of moving among dimensions in a role-playing game.

The Candy House is a bold, brilliant imagining of a world that is moments away. Egan takes to stunning new heights her "deeply intuitive forays into the darker aspects of our technology-driven, image-saturated culture" (Vogue). The Candy House delivers an absolutely extraordinary combination of fierce, exhilarating intelligence and heart.

Coming soon.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. In nearly every chapter of The Candy House, characters are in disguise or turn out to be connected to other characters in unexpected ways, or are seen from different perspectives, or are simply strangers to themselves. Talk about Jennifer Egan's exploration of knowability: how we know ourselves and how others know us.
  2. In the first chapter, Bix, disguised as a graduate student, tries to re-create the kinds of discussions he remembers having as a college and graduate student. Why are these dialogues so hard for him to have in his adult life? And how essential is his disguise to the revelation and discovery that follow?
  3. The Candy House is made up of stories written in distinct narrative voices and styles. How do these different approaches ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

By presenting so many different characters diffusely spread through various styles of presentation, The Candy House reproduces the fundamental flaws that prevent social media from having the same truly deep and profound impact and connections to humanity that fiction can achieve. We end up with an innately dissatisfied feeling after having engaged with the stories and characters in the novel. As sensational and enjoyable as the plot, language, style and characters are at times, the same emptiness that follows a sugar high sets in quite quickly...continued

Full Review (652 words)

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(Reviewed by Jennifer Hon Khalaf).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Its teeming tapestry of strivers, dropouts, and dreamers as insistently alive as they were 12 years ago… The Candy House, for all its dips and spins and cul-de-sacs, its brain- weevil gadgets and future panics, does what only the best and rarest books can: peel back the thin membrane of ordinary life, and find transcendence on the other side.

Good Housekeeping
You don't have to read A Visit From the Goon Squad to love this sibling novel to Egan's stellar hit...complex and intimate.

Houston Chronicle
The Candy House is bursting with stories, thick with beating hearts…[Egan's] writing still dazzles.

Los Angles Times
This is the thrill of both Goon Squad and Candy House: They exploit this new and strange material, but their greatest pleasures feel particular to books... For Egan, getting it right has to do with fulfilling a reader's craving — the word 'craving' appears in the first line of Candy House and the last chapter of Goon Squad — for mystery and imagination, as opposed to the barrage of information, the much emptier imagistic titillations, that we find much easier to access.

Oprah Daily
Inventive, effervescent...Egan plaits multiple narratives and techniques to underscore the manifold ways our own desires betray us in a brave new coded world.

Slate
Radiant…Egan opens windows on entrancing new worlds, in which what happened depends on who's telling the story.

Tampa Bay Times
Rich in indelible characters…full of humor and heartbreak and insight about our brave new world…Egan's subtle attention to the distinctive voices of her many characters is remarkable.

The New York Times
Sometimes…you pick up a novel and it makes your skin prickle — not necessarily because it's a great novel qua novel, which you can't know until the end, but because of the velocity of its microperceptions. You've entered elite head space of one kind or another. Jennifer Egan's new one, The Candy House, is one of these novels.

The San Francisco Chronicle
This is a beautiful exploration of loss, memory and history, a not too subtle critique of what is lost when we live our lives online.

The Washington Post
Even in an era of boundless hype, Jennifer Egan's The Candy House has a legitimate claim on the title of Most Anticipated Book of the Year…[contains] a brilliant demonstration of the unquantifiable pleasures of great fiction.

Vogue
A dazzling feat of literary construction that belies the profound questions at its core: Does technology aid our sense of narrative or obscure it?

Booklist (starred review)
Haunting and often hilarious, this is a wondrous, riotously inventive work of speculative fiction that celebrates the power of the imagination in the face of technology that threatens to do our thinking for us...a top spring title with magnetic pull for Visit from the Goon Squad admirers and fans of smart, literary speculative fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
As Manhattan Beach (2017) showed, Egan is perfectly capable of writing a satisfying traditional novel, but she really dazzles when she turns her formidable gifts to examining the changes to society and individuals wrought by the internet and social media...A thrilling, endlessly stimulating work that demands to be read and reread.

Library Journal (starred review)
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.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An electrifying and shape-shifting story that one-ups its Pulitzer-winning predecessor...Twisting through myriad points of view, narrative styles, and divergent voices, Egan proves herself as perceptive an interpreter of the necessity of human connection as ever, and her vision is as irresistible as the tech she describes. This is Egan's best yet.

Reader Reviews

Sally

I read it twice
I never do this, but I read this book twice. The first time, I loved the language and the way new technology impacted old conflicts. The second time, I tried to understand how all the characters fit together. Both times were extremely rewarding. It'...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Social Media Addiction

social media apps on a phone screenIn The Candy House, the allure of social media, with its illusions of security, comfort and happiness are frequently described in terms similar to those related to addiction. Egan presents characters who struggle with substance abuse and deal with their isolation by withdrawing into the social media platform Own Your Unconscious.

While social media addiction is listed as a condition warranting further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — used by those in the field of psychology to diagnose mental health conditions — there have been multiple studies documenting the addictive potential of these platforms. The main chemical component in the brain behind addiction is dopamine, which is secreted ...

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Read-Alikes

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