Book excerpt: “The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s 2010 novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad” earned her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Now, she’s written a sequel, “The Candy House,” in which a tech giant develops the means for users to externalize and share every memory they’re ever had. (Sounds like trouble.) 

Read an excerpt below.


Scribner


If anything can be said in defense of the person I was in 2008, the year Sasha made amends and Polly was born—the year I turned thirty—it can be only that I was least forgiving of myself. Every move I made was aimed at harrying myself toward greater excellence. But certain things, like sleep, resist rigid control. In high school, my insomnia had made it possible to excel academically while also playing three varsity sports, working for a tree pruning company, and pleasing a finicky girlfriend. I bridged the gaps with peanut butter, which I ate by the jar, and teenage energy. But Polly was colicky, and by then I was the youngest partner in my law firm’s history, and the workload was crushing. I started taking sleeping pills at night and Adderall in the morning to get me going—and eventually throughout the day to keep me sharp. When the Adderall made me jangly, I’d calm down with Xanax or Percocet in the afternoon before knocking myself out with more sleeping pills at bedtime. I saw this metabolic tinkering as nothing more than taking care of business, and the ease with which I chemically managed my deficits, coupled with a slight drug nausea I often felt, made me doubly impatient with everyone else. I became, as they say, “irritable”—hard to work for and harder to live with. My high standards intensified the pressure I felt personally, which meant that I wasn’t home with our kids enough (three in five years, in keeping with our plan) or much of a partner for Trudy—who had suspended her law career to enable our childrearing—sexually or in any other way. All of which made me more irritable, because I sensed that I was failing when all I’d ever done, my whole life, was try to succeed.

To the naked eye, things still looked fine at that point. I was bringing in business and seeing it through, albeit at the cost of some popularity at my firm. At home, everyone seemed happy, as I reminded myself daily by checking Trudy’s Facebook—later, her Instagram feed. She was a genius at capturing offhand moments and making them look iconic. Scrolling through her trips to the beach, the park, the zoo (often with our neighbor Janna and her four kids)—ice cream dribbling from chins; a video of crayoned pinwheels twirling in the breeze—I could actually feel my heartbeat slow, my blood calm. Any fragment of time I’d managed to wrest from work and spend with them was always front and center, and I gorged on Trudy’s shots of Polly hugging me; of Michael, our older son, throwing me a ball; of me spooning mashed bananas into the mouth of Timothy, our baby. Everything was fine, I told myself, drawing deep breaths at my cherrywood desk in my towering, glassy office. They were still there, still happy—we were happy, all five of us in our beautiful home by the lake, exactly as Trudy and I had fantasized after making love between law school classes—just waiting for me to come back.


Excerpted from “The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Egan. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

       
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