The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
Published by Scribner
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary
Not every story needs to be told.
Easy-to-digest reading has been a nice break lately, but I was happily pulled back into literary fiction with Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House. Set in a time in the not-so-distant future advances in technology change the meaning of the individual, privacy, connection and begs the question: How far do we want to let computers go?
Bix Bouton is the catalyst in The Candy House. A successful tech entrepreneur, he’s looking for his next big idea. When he meets a group of scientists who have successfully found a way to download memories externally and learns of a book called Patterns of Affinity that contains predictive algorithms for human behavior, he’s found his answer. Bouton makes the leap and soon Mandala’s Own Your Unconscious is born—software allowing users to download every memory in their brain (even those lost to them through age or trauma) onto an external hard drive.
From this jumping off point, Bouton’s drive turns Mandala into a company that goes beyond the individual. Pay more money and you can be part of a community by anonymously (of course) sharing your memories with others. Life’s missing bits can be filled in. Whatever happened to the guy you almost married? The business partner who stole all your money? Anything experienced can be found, but your data, your self are no longer yours alone.
Given the scope of the world Egan imagines, The Candy House is written in short burst chapters that are as diverse as the reality she describes. She writes in all points of view—first person, second, and even the collective we. Each of these provides an immediacy, cutting to the heart of the character and adding another layer to this new world. A world where the line between alluring and repellent is blurred. Each chapter of the novel unfolds to share someone either working for or against the encroachment of the digitization of human consciousness or someone impacted by it.
The collective yearning for connection is palpable throughout The Candy House. Egan splices the notion of consciousness into such thin shards they pierce or shatter into nothingness. How much of memory is meant to be mined? If we have to hook up to machines to share an experience, is it real? The novel poignantly encompasses these universal themes through the characters and their stories. Nothing is wasted and by the end everything, from the title to each character’s purpose, becomes clear. The Candy House is elegant, profound, and thought-provoking, the kind of book meant to be read and discussed.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Scribner in exchange for an honest review.*