A.J.'s Reviews > The Invisible Circus

The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
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Jan 06, 11

Read from December 13 to 25, 2010

I read this book after reading Egan's The Keep, which I unconditionally loved, although this book was written first. For me, this book started off really strong but deteriorated as it went on.

Phoebe, the protagonist, feels that she's wasted her life by being too cautious (but she's only 18!!). I can relate to that feeling and I'm older than 18. She goes to Europe, as her sister had, thinking that she's going to become a free spirit like her sister. This book kind of goes against the typical outcome by showing that changing your surroundings doesn't change you.

All in all, I liked the book but I think I kind of gave it a free pass because of how much I loved The Keep. The storyline was kind of bland especially all the traveling descriptions. It's hard to describe the negative aspects of this book without spoilers, so ...

Spoilers ahead:

I think the story was ruined when Phoebe met up with her sister's boyfriend Wolf in Germany. I would have liked the book better if it was just about Phoebe's breakdown/depression/self-loathing. Wolf was annoying, he tells Phoebe (and the reader) one thing and then 50 pages later, he's like "Oh, remember that thing I told you awhile back, yeah well I lied, but it was only to protect you, here's what really happened...". Many times. It got old. There was no reason for him to wait so long to tell her everything that happened to her sister except to drag out the book so they could travel to another locale.
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Quotes A.J. Liked

Jennifer Egan
“But try as Phoebe might to blend with her peers, it felt like bluffing, mouthing the words to a song she'd never been taught, always a beat late. At best, she fooled them. But the chance to distinguish herself, impress them in the smallest way, was lost. At her vast public high school Phoebe had felt reduced to a pidgin version of herself, as during "conversations" in French class - Where is the cat? Have you seen the cat? Look! Pierre gives the cat a bath - such was her level of fluency while discussing bongs or bands or how fucked-up someone was at a party.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“And Phoebe saw, with a dreadful clarity, that in the end she'd failed to interest her mother enough, failed to hold her attention. Some flaw within herself made her extraneous to everyone. She stopped on a corner overwhelmed by a terrible pain. It was her fault, her own fault. She'd done everything wrong.

Wait, she thought, but wait - walking again, faster now - maybe she'd misunderstood, maybe the deal with her mother had been that they each would live a secret life and not tell the other, but Phoebe hadn't realized - she'd failed to live the secret life and now her life was only this, a hundred empty years stretched uselessly behind her.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“Phoebe burst into tears. For several minutes she stood weeping in the middle of the road, the choking, gulping sobs of childhood. Something was wrong; something was wrong but she didn't know what. She was alone in the middle of nowhere, behaving strangely, with no one around to help her, and what people were around she wanted only to escape.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“Something was wrong. She'd failed, Phoebe thought, but at what? Imagining herself in Europe, she'd always pictured someone else, physically even, a tall blonde with an answer for everything - as if, in the course of this journey, she would not only shed her former life but cease to exist as herself. Yes, she thought, to leave Phoebe O'Connor behind and be reborn as someone beautiful, mysterious. But the opposite had happened; her own narrow boundaries had hemmed her in, keeping everything real at a distance.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“They must have looked like traveling companions, Phoebe thought, possibly even a couple. She noticed her voice leaning into laughter, how she tossed her head, each tiny gesture like the sweet ache of a muscle craving exercise.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“They sat in silence. Feathers, Phoebe thought, searching in vain for some moment of her own that could rival the beauty and mystery of Faith's act. She felt a disappointment so familiar it was almost a comfort.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“This vision tumbled over Phoebe with the force of revelation: she would stand somewhere and look back, she would live a life.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus

Jennifer Egan
“For years, he said, his life had felt to him like a kind of experiment. The question being, How long could he hold out before the whole thing came crashing down on his head? He'd pictured himself looking back on the present day or week from his jail cell, or while contemplating the grass outside the asylum where surely he was headed. But rather than defeating him, these thoughts had actually fueled Wolf with determination. Fuck it, he'd think, if he had to go down, he sure as hell wasn't going without a fight.”
Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus


Reading Progress

12/19/2010 page 172
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