I am intrigued with The Candy House, Jennifer Egan’s latest novel and its obsession with technology: with its notion around space—and our relationship with physical space, and its theme around connection—how we crave it as humans, but the fact remains that we are fundamentally alone, meaning we cannot be known from the inside by anyone despite how desperately people try to be known through social media. Egan’s book explores the inauthenticity of all that. In a recent interview, Egan notes that we’re all alone, and we try to present ourselves to the world through social media, but we try to do so without revealing our secrets or our shame about those secrets. A sister novel to The Candy House, A Visit From the Goon Squad, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2011, is a book about time — the impact of time passing and its relationship to technology. I feel unsettled, after having reread Goon Squad recently, and now thinking through my deeper read of Candy House.
As we enter springtime in April and Gramercy Books is filled with bunnies (and a famous book about a bunny), I can’t help thinking about the main character in The Velveteen Rabbit, first published in 1922: a simple toy "stuffed with sawdust" and ears "lined with pink sateen" who feels inadequate next to the fancier, mechanical toys. So, when the Rabbit asks the Skin Horse, the oldest and wisest of the toys, what is real?, the Rabbit learns that it happens to you when a child loves you for a very long time, and that it sometimes hurts to be real.
My favorite passage is when the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit: "...by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." Says Velveteen Rabbit author Margery Williams: "It is true that some of the most beautiful stories ever written for children ... have been sad stories. But it is the sadness which is inseparable from life, which has to do with growth and change and impermanence, and with the very essence of beauty."
A Velveteen Rabbit is a book, one hundred years old, about authenticity, an essential theme that Jennifer Egan explores in The Candy House, amidst the complexities and innovations of a current and future context.
I look forward to a full discussion of her latest novel, THE CANDY HOUSE, on April 27, 7 pm, as part of our Gramercy Book Club series, moderated by the insightful writer and scholar Nick White!
Written by Linda Kass
About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. My second historical novel, A Ritchie Boy, was inspired by my immigrant father's role as a military intelligence office in World War II. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, serving all of central Ohio!
Learn more about me on my personal website.