My contrary self is taking me through Jennifer Egan‘s oeuvre backwards, having started earlier this year with her latest, A Visit from the Goon Squad, just before she deservedly won both the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award and 2011 Pulitzer for fiction.
First things first about Egan’s thus-far penultimate title: The Keep is a total mindtrip. You’re never quite sure what’s really happening … who’s imagining what, who’s creating what, who’s remembering what, who’s experiencing what. One close literary friend wrapped it all up with “the whole thing was so meta.” Bottom line: The Keep is a thoroughly mesmerizing read.
Even though it’s one novel, three main stories (at least) are trapped within maze-like layers:
- Convicted prisoner Ray starts a writing class with fellow inmates, earnestly taught by a woman named Holly. After reading aloud an initial first story full of gratuitous violence clearly directed at Holly, Ray has a transformational epiphany and starts writing a strange and mysterious tale of two cousins.
- Cousins Danny and Howie share a traumatic past from which neither has truly recovered. As young boys, Danny and another older cousin abandoned Howie in a cave; his comatose body was found three days later. What a difference a couple of decades has made: Howie has morphed into the powerful Howard, independently wealthy, early-retired, married with young kids, and in the midst of restoring a phenomenal 12th-century castle in Eastern Europe to turn into a luxury destination. Having nothing better to do (and nowhere else to go), Danny arrives at Howard’s new abode, rightfully unsure of what to expect …
- The book’s third story – revealed in Part III – brings together all the seemingly disparate strands. I really can’t tell you more than that, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you’ve read carefully, you will absolutely appreciate the rollercoaster ride.
And not to add to all those meta-layers, but look what I just found … click here. Ready to pack your bags …?