This ambitious novel by Jennifer Egan sets out on an experimental overdrive employing age old techniques of shifting ludicrously from first person to second person, from one generation to the next- travelling a whole lifetime sometimes in barely 100 odd words. It includes a 72-pager story that is set out in a powerpoint format tells you what exactly I mean when I say Egan has left no stones unturned in seeing to it that the novel capture both, the age-old infatuation of writers with the decay that time does to people in general and to appeal to a generation that is hung-up on the latest fads in technology. So, through the prism of the music industry, the papparazzi and nomadic instincts this Pulitzer Prize winning novel encapsulates what it sets out to achieve. Sometimes, it does go overboard and digresses but that remains only some of the weakness in the novel which is otherwise stimulating and thought-provoking.
Having come onto this book just after reading The Fall- Albert Camus, the narration- one of the primary traits that appeals to me as a reader is being projected tacitly into a trajectory that while aint all encompassing but is nevertheless inspiring. It is an intelligent novel I would proclaim in not what it sets out to reflect and incite but the way it does that. While the semantics of terming it as a series of intertwined stories or a novel can be best left to literary anthologists and history keepers, the best way I can describe this book is that of an unending tree which branches out from every nook and cranny.
Borrowing lines off this interesting review on NYT:
The book starts with Sasha, a kleptomaniac, who works for Bennie, a record executive, who is a protégé of Lou who seduced Jocelyn who was loved by Scotty who played guitar for the Flaming Dildos, a San Francisco punk band for which Bennie once played bass guitar (none too well), before marrying Stephanie who is charged with trying to resurrect the career of the bloated rock legend Bosco who grants the sole rights for covering his farewell “suicide tour” to Stephanie’s brother, Jules Jones, a celebrity journalist who attempted to rape the starlet Kitty Jackson, who one day will be forced to take a job from Stephanie’s publicity mentor, La Doll, who is trying to soften the image of a genocidal tyrant because her career collapsed in spectacular fashion around the same time that Sasha in the years before going to work for Bennie was perhaps working as a prostitute in Naples where she was discovered by her Uncle Ted who was on holiday from a bad marriage, and while not much more will be heard from him, Sasha will come to New York and attend N.Y.U. and work for Bennie before disappearing into the desert to sculpture and raise a family with her college boyfriend, Drew, while Bennie, assisted by Alex, a former date of Sasha’s from whom she lifted a wallet, soldiers on in New York, producing musicians (including the rediscovered guitarist Scotty) as the artistic world changes around him with the vertiginous speed of Moore’s Law.
In one of the Newyorker broadcasts on Fiction Writer’s Beginnings, Egan strikes me as one of the self-conscious writers who is modest while at the same time articulate in what she sets out to convey. She would be placed in one of those in-classifiable writers who develop their own peculiar and often unsettling manner of narration. The book sets out to explore the vagaries of time on various people connected through a thread and travels across time, culture, generation, eyes and grammar.
Scotty’s “Time’s a goon, right?” is what the whole book revolves after and one which the reader can imbibe from each of the inter-connected stories save one. We have a “cokehead music producer” whose sole intention it is to restrict the passage of time, the punk-rocker whose fall is so steep that when he does come back he does so with a panache so monumental that the irony becomes banal. We have Lulu the new-age child who is so alienated and indifferent to the world that the images of gun-toting henchmen and that of her fellow classmates trying to unsettle her evokes the same characteristically inert response. Then there are the protagonists, or atleast they can be called one just for the heck of it – Sasha and Bennie who are both cardboard cut-outs of cocaine snorting, aimlessly travelling, disenchantment’ed’, desultorily meandering generation who has to come to grips with the erosion that time pushes on them.
The book, as described here, works as an album in that you can enjoy each song as it comes independently. But then, when you try and relate each of those connected dots, the stark realism of the text strikes you smack on the face. What I love most about this book is the seemingly intelligent and digressing way in which it sets out to bring the one common theme that runs throughout the book. While the meta-fictional element that forms the core has been explored wide and out, especially in those vintage classics that ran pages with little or no plot, this new-age novel does so through a complex intermingling of characters, situations, time and narration.
- American Pastoral – Philip Roth
- How to be Alone – Jonathan Franzen
- The Big Short – Micheal Lewis