Friday 28 March 2014

Devouring Books: The Keep by Jennifer Egan

"What are they giving you, the machines? Shadows, disembodied voices. Typed words and pictures if you're online. That's it, Danny. If you think you're surrounded by people, you're making them up."

Ah, Jennifer Egan. You read one of the greatest books you've read for a long time (maybe ever) and all of a sudden you're all obsessed with reading all her books. I'm referring of course to A Visit From The Goon Squad, and the fact that I now can't get enough Egan (since she's only written 4 novels, there's a cut off point to this, and it's after I've read Look At Me. But shh, that hasn't happened yet). And so, that brings us to The Keep.

I didn't enjoy The Keep as much as A Visit From The Goon Squad. That should probably go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, and now you know the terrifying (understandable) truth. This doesn't mean that The Keep is a bad book, because it isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not sure if I really enjoyed it as much as I wanted to. This is why you don't read an author's best book (so far) before you read the others, and consider my lesson LEARNED. Until I approach Look At Me with the same optimism, that is.

But The Keep. It's a story within a story (within a story, technically) so there are levels of narration and some complex things going on that you don't necessarily fully understand until towards the end of the book, where all is revealed and you kind of go 'ohhhh... I see that,' and everything slots together nicely in what I would like to describe as an Eganitarian way. Only... I wasn't sure I really cared about the revelation at that point because I wasn't hugely into the story? And I'm still not sure that I really care about it now? And I feel sort of bad about it and that's why I'm asking instead of telling you all this?

Let's talk more about the story/stories. The inner level of story concerns Danny, a thirty something who doesn't really know where his life has gone wrong, or where his really successful cousin's has gone right. Danny flies out to help his cousin set up his business-in-a-castle (I know) and finds it difficult to give up the technology to which he has become accustomed. This was possibly the most interesting part of the book to me- the idea that modern people have sacrificed imagination for technology, and that living through technology is not necessarily the way to go.

I find this interesting maybe because I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, a lot of good things have happened to me because of the internet, and I wouldn't be without this blog or without those of you who I really really feel like I know now and I wouldn't have that without the internet. But, at the same time, when I'm refreshing twitter or tumblr for the millionth time that day, I sometimes wonder, you know, what else could I be doing with my life? While I get the impression that Egan is fairly anti-technology (or anti-too much technology. Or something) and that's her stand on it, I still appreciate the moment to take a step back and go 'hmm, how do I really feel about this?' So that's cool.

The outer story in The Keep is about the guy who's writing the inner story. I don't know how much I should tell you about him, but his existence is interesting because you then assume that hey, this other story seems like it might be fictional, so maybe I should pay more attention to this story, even though you know that this story is also fictional, since Jennifer Egan is not, as far as I know, a fortyish (?) male in a secure facility. I found it really strange though that I suddenly assumed, because of this book's structure, that this outer narrative was somehow 'truer' than the inner, and I thought hey, that's a pretty neat trick. So maybe I'm a little more impressed with this book than I am in love with it.

I don't know whether I think you need to read this or not. As a bit of an author completist (I'm more inclined to go by author than any other factor when choosing books) I'm tempted to say that of COURSE you should read all of Egan's books, but now that I've finished this one, I feel like I might think it's relatively skippable. AND NOW I FEEL BAD. Just, go and read A Visit From The Goon Squad. That definitely won't disappoint you.


  1. I'm pretty sure Blogger ate my comment. Again. Sorry if you're seeing this multiple times.

    This sounds interesting but I trust your "..eeehh" about it, so I'll probably stick with re-reading Goon Squad. Or listening to it since I bought it on audio and have yet to do that.

    1. FUCK YOU, BLOGGER! (I mean, not you as a blogger... The actual thing, Blogger. In case THAT wasn't clear, which it definitely was haha)

      This is QUITE interesting. And I'm not really sad I read it or anything, but I just feel quite eh about it. I approve of listening to Goon Squad on audiobook cause THAT sounds like it could be really good! (Or really bad, if improperly handled...)

  2. I think this is the only Egan that I haven't read and I don't think I'm in a rush to do so. Unlike you, I wasn't a huge fan of Goon Squad. I admire her writing quite a bit but I'm not enamored of her narrative structures and occasionally her plots. I think for me she falls more under the category of interesting.

    1. Ah, I think it's fair to consider her interesting rather than being in love with her- I'd probably say I found this interesting rather than liking it a lot, so I think that's a really good way to describe it. I DID love Goon Squad though, like really. ALSO I'm quite excited to read Look At Me cause the premise alone excites me quite a bit! But we'll see how much I like it...

  3. "Everything slots together nicely in what I would like to describe as an Eganitarian way." EGANITARIAN. Trademark that shit.

    I felt exactly the same about this one as you did...except that I liked the end so much that it retroactively improved the rest of the book for me. And maybe that outer story feels more realistic because the setting is so much more stark. Medieval European castle vs. prison lockdown.

    I don't want to lower your hopes about Look At Me...but I tried to write a blog post about it way back when I read it last year, and all I got was this: "I think I’ll always regret the fact that my first Jennifer Egan novel was A Visit From the Goon Squad. I’ve since worked my way in chronological reverse through her backlog (all except her first novel and her collection of short stories), and I always come to the same conclusion: Goon Squad did it better."


    1. RIGHT?! I was pretty proud of that, for reals.

      I... Ok, it's not that I'm BLAMING you, but I knew SOMETHING was coming at the end because of you (DAMMIT, MEGS) so when it got there, I was like 'ah! Of course,' rather than being completely surprised? But but but, I still didn't even like it that much? It was more of a 'eh' than a WOW! I think you're right about the outer story though- but why do I think reality is so stark? ISSUES.

      I... Don't know what to think now. Because the PREMISE of Look At Me, Megs. The PREMISE! I am so intrigued by it. But, I mean, I get how it still won't be as good as Goon Squad because WHAT IS? Nothing, that's what.

      Basically, what we need is for Egan to write something new, because if she improves all the time then her next thing will be BETTER than Goon Squad, right?! RIGHT *optimism face*

    2. I originally read your post on my phone and *totally* missed the brilliance of Eganitarian. I love that. And you. You're the best.