“Nothing is free!” Jennifer Egan warns in “The Candy House,” the long-awaited sequel to her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” “Only children expect otherwise, though myths and fairy tales warn us: Rumpelstiltskin, King Midas, Hansel and Gretel. Never trust a confectionery! »
In effect. “Goon Squad,” an interconnected, high-flying, innovative story series, detailed the intersecting lives of record label executive Bennie Salazar; his assistant, Sasha; and a complicated cast of characters. “The Candy House” picks up the adventures of Bix Bouton, an African-American technician who played a minor role in the previous book. This time he’s leading Mandala, a tech empire with planetary reach into people’s privacy that would put Google, Amazon or Meta to shame. It’s a cautionary tale, but often playful.
“I’m not interested in judging things,” Egan says by phone from his home in Brooklyn. “If I want to report facts and give an opinion, I would do it in a non-fiction field. Fiction is more about asking questions than answering them. When I feel a whiff of didacticism, I lose interest.
The author has come a long way since her youth in the Bay Area, though she remains attached to the city. “There’s something about a place you’ve known since childhood that always feels like you’re connected to the past,” she says. “I prefer to come back as a visitor. I feel like I still have access to that imaginative world, because I remember it so well, but I feel more alive in New York. … I think it has something to do with the remoteness of the geography of my past.
At age 7, Egan moved from Chicago to San Francisco, where his mother, Kay Kimpton Walker, ran an art gallery in town and his stepfather, Sandy Walker, was a noted architect.
Egan says, “I went to Katherine (Delmar) Burke School when I was younger, then to Lowell High,” where she fondly remembers legendary English teacher Flossie Lewis. She initially thought she would be an archaeologist until she took a year off to dig, only to quickly find out it wasn’t for her.
Growing up in the aftermath of the 1960s, she worked in a cafe on Haight Street during her senior year of high school, much like the protagonist of her first novel, “The Invisible Circus”, which dealt with a teenage girl’s search for the cause. of the mysterious death of his hippie sister.
Although she followed “Goon Squad” in 2017 with the historical novel “Manhattan Beach”, she couldn’t leave the previous book.
“Bix had a cameo (in ‘Goon Squad’). He was a guy in the early 90s, who was on his computer, talking about this amazing thing that was going to happen,” she says. knew someone like that. I thought, ‘Oh, I bet he’s going to be a tech icon.’
Egan, while far from being a tech geek – she always writes the first draft of her novels by hand – has some personal knowledge of this world. She dated Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when she was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, though she’s quick to point out that, unlike Bix, he had made his mark and was already famous when they met.
But she’s less interested in the latest apps and more in how to incorporate their impact on storytelling. “Goon Squad” included a famous chapter narrated entirely in PowerPoint. This time around, it includes a series of hilarious emails between a publicist and her assistant, who tries to drag her boss into a wacky movie deal involving a dictator trying to rebuild his reputation by setting up a photo shoot with a B-list movie. actress.
“It makes sense to lean into the almost inexhaustible possibilities of the form – it’s our best shot at keeping it relevant,” she says. “It’s also just fun. As soon as I encounter a genre, I say to myself: ‘How can I use it?’ And I have more ideas up my sleeve.
Do you intend to return to fiction in his native territory? “I’m actually interested in a detective story set in San Francisco in the 1950s,” Egan replies. “So far it’s unclear if it will have legs, but it’s fun to think of (the city) when it was smaller, before the tech boom.”