Ken-ichi's Reviews > The Keep

The Keep by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Dec 22, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: snoot
Read from December 22 to 25, 2011

Not my favorite book ever but it ended on a sweet note. It seems Egan has a thing for urban losers and nuclear families. The families are a nice antidote to the losers, but the losers are still losers, making them somewhat annoying to accompany for the majority of a novel. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, the cast of losers rotated frequently enough to keep me from becoming mired in their loserdom, but not so in The Keep. Danny cares more about his boots and his phone his fellow human beings, considers mundane abilities like recognizing powerful people to be the hard-won rewards of a lifetime of experience, and when he reaches his climactic transformation, it doesn't feel believable. The Danny of several pages prior would have thrown a fit or gone catatonic. I doubt Egan considers Danny's experience to be the most significant component of the novel, but it's still the layer through which the reader must trudge for the majority.

Thankfully Egan provides more brain fodder than just her drug-addled losers and precocious kids. There's a strange dualism between connection and imagination at play that I'm struggling to interpret. "Connection" here is valued not for the things it connects but for itself. Danny doesn't seem to care who he calls, who left him voice messages, who knows he's alive, but rather that anyone does. His concept of "alto" is not really about understanding. As he says, "perspective, vision, knowledge, wisdom—those words were all too heavy or too light." It seems like a cheap sort of sensation to me, but accurately describes what I'm seeking when I desperately flip between social networking sites.

On the opposing side is Howard and the power of "imagination," or perhaps internalism, the ability to live without connection, to invent the components of life that are lacking. Howard's manifesto on the purpose of the hotel outlines the idea, but so does Holly's description of the purpose of her prison writing class, opening doors inside oneself and whatnot. On the whole the novel seems to consider this kind of storytelling ability to be redemptive (the entire Danny storyline is essentially Ray's way of surviving prison, or perhaps making sense of the events they describe), and we assume Holly's ultimate enactment of the imagined scene Ann described earlier in the book (diving into the warm pool) achieves the same rebirth. But Howard's obsession with this sensation seems almost as pathological as Danny's obsession with empty connection. (view spoiler) I'm not sure there's a need to interpret this dualism in normative terms, but the characters seem to see it that way, so should we expect the author to take a side? As a novelist it seems like she's obviously in the imagination camp.

(view spoiler)

Overall, if you haven't tried Egan I'd go with Goon Squad. Not sure I'd recommend this one.
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Reading Progress

12/24/2011 page 154
60.0% "Intrigued by the mystery but kind of hate the characters so far."

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message 1: by Jane (new)

Jane Matteis If David Mitchell likes it I might have to give it a try

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