The ground is wet as I walk up the gentle slope toward the library of my school to post this from their computers there. The internet isn’t working in my apartment so I have to post this review from a public terminal. I desperately hope that no one interrupts my feverish typing as is common in this place seeing friends from campus amble in to work on their studies here. I am taking a quarter off to reflect and regroup to finish my studies here. I want to finish this post before I lose the thread of my dream-like reverie of this oddly beautiful novel. As I walked up the like hill toward the library, the slight chill to the air made steam of my breath like words hanging in front of me I didn’t mean to say out loud. I wonder about this novel so loudly in mind that I feel like I am talking to myself. I want to read everything Jennifer Egan has ever written down to high school book reports. I want to find her and ask her about the secrets of the universe, but I feel like I won’t be able to find the person that finished the last sentence of the work I feel came out in one beautiful session in front of a screen, but the moment after it lost all the beauty and fury that composed the first 80 pages of it. I know none of these things are true in the way I want them to be. She has had countless interviews about this book and her many others, and the constant touching of these ideas and notions will have changed them like touching a piece of pottery on the wheel too much warps its shape and the initial inspiration. I want to ask her if she meant for everything to be present in the minutest sense. I want to ask her about the link of punk music and the dystopian future she predicts in the the end of her novel. I want to ask her if the all the pieces she smashed up in the first section leads to the disunity and beauty in the last half. I pause here to insert the review I feverishly scrawled after part 1 of her book, ‘A’ as it is called because I had to capture my reaction.
“This book is difficult like Elliot said modern poetry should be difficult. Egan is cruel and unforgiving to her characters as she rages against them like a flooded river that tears down the main street of rivered Midwestern town. Flood water that carries with it record players from some garage and Mary Kay starter kits and every other image I can imagine that connotes the idea of ‘it sounded like a good idea at the time,’ or ‘a chance to change our stars’ but turned out to be that one mocking purchase that holds its place in the back of our closets like a trophy of regret. Egan is merciless like the director of a soap opera on daytime television that invites young and aspiring actors into their big breaks just to give them crappy lines and melodramatic, prolonged deaths. There is no succeeding in Egan’s book, just succumb to your awful fate and be forgotten, but hope that your horrific demise might add to a more beautiful whole, perhaps, if dreaming in such a twisted nightmare scape seems like something that would be allowed by such a harsh mistress.
I noticed that as I walked out of Starbucks, I had dried tears in my eyes as the wind came to meet me. I don’t remember crying while reading the first 80 pages, but that Egan had rent these tears from my eyes as I watch her shatter her characters lives. She doesn’t shatter them like glass but something sturdier like an outdated receiver or computer with a hammer in a driveway, the plastic and glass spray into a cloudy afternoon. This book will swallow you underneath the current of her ferocious prose.”
As I resume, I will add that her book does not keep the pace of these first 80 pages, but few things I can imagine could keep such a fevered pace. This work is not perfect, not even close. Bits of this book are, and their perfection is everything that you need in art. After the first 80 pages, the tension and the pressure abate considerably. What is interesting is that she includes two scenes that would fit perfectly although much finer writing than, John Cheever’s Pulitzer winning work, Collected Stories. The two scenes include a affluent suburb scene in Crandale, New York with all the petty melodrama that follows it, affair then divorce. In addition, she has a scene in Naples, Italy which is startlingly beautiful. What I found enchanting about these two scenes, in their relation and overshadowing of Cheever, is that they are clearer and yet more subtle than Cheever can be. Subtle is an odd word to use for Egan as the first 80 pages are anything, and I mean, anything but subtle whatsoever and her change in tactic and tone is disjarring but beautiful nonetheless. There are elements that I do not think work that well in this book, but I am wrapped in such a reverie of this book that I may look back with a little more criticism than at current. One such instance is the power point section I am not certain is totally successful, but it is worth it not to get the idyllic episode lost in wordiness not trying to betray the visceral first half with mushy, ‘unrealistic’ sounding prose. I appreciated that, but I am not certain it did the work she wanted it to.
Something that fiction is capable of is having characters and places live inside us for years to come. I live with Holden Caufield in that hotel room with the teenage prostitute in my memory. I live with Rasklinikov on the banks of the river as he understands the universe and his place in for the first time. I peek behind the bushes at Robert Jordan and his lover in For Whom The Bell Tolls. I will carry with me the image of Jack Burden in water under the green sky from All the King’s Men. In addition, I will live with Uncle Teddy standing in front of Sasha in her Naples slum with Orpheus and Eurydice in his mind. I cannot think of an idea that approach such a moment other than the perfect place where heavyhandedness makes its presence felt in such a absolutely perfect way. In addition, I will stand with Alex and Bennie on the steps of Sasha’s old apartment as they both chase the dream of a girl they thought would save them, but haunts them instead which is all she ever wanted. This was a strange, disjointed, and beautiful book I am very glad to have read. The first 80 pages alone vaulted it head and shoulders into easily the top ten of this project, perhaps the top five but I am not sure about that.