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‘The Candy House’ Review: A Brilliant Tale Exploring the Human Side of Technology

4.5 Stars

The cover of Jennifer Egan's "The Candy House."
The cover of Jennifer Egan's "The Candy House." By Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
By Anna Moiseieva, Crimson Staff Writer

Jennifer Egan’s “The Candy House” tells the story of tech tycoon Bix Bouton and his most revolutionary innovation, “Own Your Unconscious,” which allows one to access every memory they’ve ever had. More than just a cautionary tale about the impact of advancing technology, “The Candy House” is an examination of humanity’s desire for connection, love, and family. An intellectually dazzling puzzle, “The Candy House” is a worthy successor to Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel,“A Visit from the Goon Squad.”

The novel jumps through several decades and multiple families, taking the reader through all of the events leading up to and after the creation of “Own Your Unconscious.” Tying together the cultural revolution of the 1960s to cultural turmoil in the 2020s and 2030s, Egan creates a sense of the repetition of history. She skillfully explores a wide variety of narrative styles, not just switching between narrative perspectives, but also structuring chapters in ways as diverse as a series of emails or a set of instructions in the second person. The interlocking stories show how complex humanity’s relationship with technology can really be. Egan’s message shines through in this storytelling format, contrasting human connection with the background of technological innovation.

Egan uses the destruction of familial relationships to portray the unsavory role technology can play. “Own Your Unconscious” is painted in a decidedly negative light as it creates ideological rifts between father and son and drives a mother to the extremes of paranoia. “The Candy House” is a critique not only of rapidly changing technology, but also of the culture that inevitably arises as we get accustomed to technology’s advancements.

A lack of privacy and data monetization as well as authenticity are key themes explored in “The Candy House.” In much the same way that companies harvest data about us from Google searches or Netflix streams, Egan’s “counters” gather information about people’s personalities and feelings through surveillance. The creation of this profession represents how capitalistic greed can invade neutral technology — along with people’s privacy — and monetize it, expertly mirroring the world we live in today. The search for authenticity is depicted with references to “word casings,” or over-used words that have lost their meaning, and the hunt for “the thing itself.”

The variety of narrative styles and narrating characters in “The Candy House” leaves the reader curious and maybe even a little disoriented at the start of every chapter. The uncertainty as to which character will appear next, and how they will fit into Egan’s world, is enthralling. As the book progresses, Egan masterfully unfolds the details to orient the reader, and the puzzle quickly starts to come together.

Overall, “The Candy House” is a sensational novel that depicts the human struggle to find your place in a technologically evolving world. With intricately written prose and nuanced characters, “The Candy House” is an exhilarating and enjoyable read.

—Staff writer Anna Moiseieva can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @AMoiseieva.

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