Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

The first few chapters of this book were delicious. There, the book is the story of two boy cousins, whose lives after a terrible prank caused unfortunate adulthoods, deciding to renovate a castle full of mysteries, and it really works. Throughout the book’s chapters it was this story thread that I looked forward to. Egan’s ghost story (I am using this term loosely) had tantalizing details and a sense of trickery about it, but all along I had a gnawing feeling that the end would not be satisfying and the enchantment would fall apart. Too bad I was right!

A few chapters in a we get a prison writing class, a group of cons, a sweet teacher named Holly and the question “‘Which one of these clowns is you?’” which felt like a giant ham thrown onto a delicately laid plate of sushi. Egan dances around unreliable narration and perspective, but because the result was a bit clumsy, I felt no compulsion to watch her steps. The character of Ray, the prisoner, writer, and first-person narrator, is a bit too introspective to be believable, even though he is supposed to be an outsider to prison, a man who did a single catastrophic thing. I was able ignore most of the characterization slipups in the face the work done on his interior world and Egan’s exploration of the heavily regulated realm of prison through him. Ray’s story works ok until the inevitable escape plan, and the addition of a Magical Negro character named Davis makes an already cliched plot twist even more grating.

The third part of the book adds an additional perspective that it didn’t need. Once again the tables are turned and we see the prison narrative from the view of Holly (the aforementioned teacher and victim of POV burnout)—what she thinks of Ray, the effect of his actions on her, perceptions turned on their heads and all that. I think Holly’s story would have worked well as a related novella because Egan gives her such a great back story but here it feels tacked-on for extra credit.

The Keep
is ambitious and I like that. I don't regret the $1.85 and the few hours I spent. I just wish that all of the elements had been equally compelling and that an nice, but strict, editor had shown Egan the business end of her red pen.

Edited to add: Wanna know where I got such a deal? Here, where I also got this.


looka said...

YEEEAAAH! Wild Rides!

looka said...

uhm, love the review...

Amanda said...

I do love its cover, that's pretty fancy!