The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company Mandala sells a popular new technology called “Own Your Unconscious," which that allows people access to every memory they've ever had and to share them in exchange for access to the memories of others. But not everyone is so enamored with this new technology. In interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of "Own Your Unconscious" through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades.
Sometimes...you pick up a novel and it makes your skin prickle—not necessarily because it’s a great novel qua novel, which you can’t know until the end, but because of the velocity of its microperceptions. You’ve entered elite head space of one kind or another. Jennifer Egan’s new one, The Candy House, is one of these novels. It makes you feel a bit high, drugged, and fitted with V.R. goggles, almost from the start ... You don’t have to have read Goon Squad to pick up The Candy House, but it helps. Most of the characters are back ... All sorts of strings from the earlier book are picked up and braided, twanged or cauterized ... My description...makes this sound like a clash-of-civilizations novel, or a techno nail-biter...but it doesn’t read that way: It’s more nubbly. It comes alive in dozens of entwined stories, in connections and convergences ... The Candy House is a trim 334 pages, but it has a dwarf-star density. Inside, 15 or 20 other novels are trying to climb out. The chapters are short; the tone is aphoristic; the eye for cultural and social detail is Tom Wolfe-like ... Egan has a gift for combining the outrageous and the plausible without ejecting us from the narrative ... All this is wound together; nearly everyone is somehow connected. It’s all too much, except that it isn’t ... She knows where she’s going and the polyphonic effects she wants to achieve, and she achieves them ... I could argue, I suppose, that this novel’s corners are too sharp, that it lacks a certain heft and drift. The implications of the cube on sex habits, online and off, are oddly omitted. And the ending is tapioca soft ... Always check for your wallet when a writer goes all in, as Egan does here, on the power of storytelling and of fiction. The Candy House makes that case simply by existing.
... a spectacular palace built out of rabbit holes ... Egan is after more than a cautionary tale; she is interested in describing social technology as a lived environment. She doesn’t construct a master story arc around Own Your Unconscious and its spinoffs; instead, they’re just a fact of this world, part of the stuff that goes on in the background. It’s not the A-plot, it’s the soundtrack ... Egan is a one-woman R&D department of language ... If The Candy House is less cohesive than Goon Squad, it may be because its subject is harder to get one’s arms around. The story doesn’t describe an arc so much as a network diagram; it doesn’t end, it stops. The biggest criticism I can make of The Candy House is that it kicks us out just when it seems to be getting started...But that is also the strongest praise I can give it. Egan knows that she can never offer a complete picture of the global consciousness, only an evocative impression. The challenge of a novel whose subject is, in one sense, everything is knowing what to leave out, a dilemma that The Candy House meta-acknowledges repeatedly.
... a dizzying and dazzling work that should end up on many Best of the Year lists ... The Candy House” requires exquisite attentiveness and extensive effort from its readers. But the work and the investment pay off richly, as each strain and thread and character reverberates in a kind of amplifying echo-wave with all the others, and the overarching tapestry emerges as ever more intricate and brilliantly conceived. Enacting the book’s dominant metaphor, Egan is presenting a version of Collective Consciousness: the blending and extension of selfhood across shared experience and identity. One of the book’s most fascinating implications, less patent but pervasive, is how this alternative model of perception does and doesn’t undermine traditional notions of literary consciousness ... As we follow the pebbles and crumbs Egan so cannily lays out, readers may feel at times as disoriented or wonderstruck as children making their way through a dark forest, at others electrifyingly clear-sighted, ecstatically certain of the novel’s wisdom, capacious philosophical range, truth and beauty. Charged with 'a potency of ideas simmering,' The Candy House is a marvel of a novel that testifies to the surpassing power of fiction to 'roam with absolute freedom through the human collective.'