The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: A review
A Visit From the Good Squad which I read way back in 2013. A lot of books have flowed over the rocks of my brain since then, so I don't remember the specifics of that book as well as I might, but I do remember that I liked it. In fact, I've never read a book by Egan that I didn't like. And that includes The Candy House.
This one is a bit difficult to describe. It is all about memory and the desire for privacy in a world where so much of our lives is open to the public. We can come to feel that our lives are no longer our own but are part of the shared memories of everyone around us. As I say, a bit difficult to describe or wrap our heads around.
The time is 2010 and Bix Bouton is a successful tech entrepreneur on the lookout for the next big thing. A conversation with some Columbia professors puts him on the track of an idea for downloading or externalizing memory. The technology that he creates to make that germ of an idea a reality allows an individual access to every memory he or she has ever had as well as the ability to share those memories and the memories of others. Thus, "Own Your Unconscious" is born.
The technology becomes wildly popular with the public. Egan then shows us the potential consequences of the system through the lives of many disparate characters over decades. She does this in a number of different styles throughout the various chapters. One chapter, for example, is comprised of nothing but tweets! It's certainly a creative, imaginative way of developing a theme and telling the story.
Through this imagined technology, one is able to access and remember the memories of others: one's forebears, for example. What could possibly go wrong with that? Furthermore, she imagines a system of "counters" who track and exploit the desires of others as they are identified in memories. In her world, there are also "eluders," those who understand the price of becoming involved in "Own Your Unconscious" and refuse to participate.
The world that she imagines has social media and technology as an integral part of the living environment. One review of the book that I remember described it as the "soundtrack" of our lives and that seems particularly apt. And what if one doesn't want one's memories to become a part of this global consciousness? Can one refuse to participate? Can one disown one's consciousness and one's memories? As much as an exploration of the possibilities of reliving the memories of others, Egan's book seems to be a warning of the dangers of such sharing. In the end, although we long for connection with others, we also cherish our privacy. It is, after all, the essence of what makes us us.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars