The BUZZ: Published in 2010, an instant bestseller. Ultimately, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The GIST: This novel’s center is the life of Bennie Salazar, a record executive in Manhattan, and that of his one-time assistant, Sasha. As if these two are the hub of a wheel, succeeding chapters introduce characters who are related to one or both of them. Each character’s story is complete in and of itself; each has a deep back story, with motivations and desires and triumphs and failures. Ranging from the 1970’s to today, these individual histories become the plot. From New York to San Francisco to Italy and to Africa, we don’t know where Egan is taking us until the final pages, but along the way she answers all of our questions, cleverly and patiently. The humans that populate this novel are at turns beautiful, frustrating, hilarious, sad, deranged, kind, and charming. The best grow wiser as they grow older, and their redemption makes this work a stunner.
The WRITING: Inventive. To make each chapter capable of standing on its own, Egan has pulled out all the stops. A full 70-pages are dedicated to a poignant Powerpoint presentation created by a 12-year-old girl, and in another chapter we get a jailhouse confession. The narrators change, at times the writing style and tone changes – all done seamlessly so that the story never sags. Egan is an elegant, bold, ambitious writer, and it’s a pleasure to escape into these pages.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. Brilliant, insightful storytelling that captures the sometimes inexplicable culture we live in, the music that beats beneath it, and our powerlessness to stop the march of time.
True: it had been a while since I’d spent much time in public. But was such a fact even relevant in our “information age,” when you could scour planet Earth and the universe without ever leaving the green velvet couch you’d pulled from a garbage dump and made the focal point of your East Sixth Street apartment?