What is there to say, really, about a book where one entire chapter is told entirely through powerpoint presentations? According to the Chicago Tribune, it’s “groundbreaking…features characters about whom you come to care deeply as you watch them doing things they shouldn’t, acting gloriously, infuriatingly human.” Let’s go ahead and break this sentence down, praise by praise.
“Groundbreaking”- defined by the Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “markedly innovative.” The novel itself is nothing new, reading like a bleak novelization of Almost Famous. Apart from the aforementioned slideshow, which feels like it’s a random attempt by the author to appear creative, each character’s story is somehow completely boring. They really shouldn’t be; these people’s lives are complete clusterfucks. Which leads me to my next point-
I do not “care deeply” about these people. Each character is kind of an asshole, and while I’m a fan of real people, there are better ways to go about doing this. Take, for example, The Corrections- each character is terribly, terribly flawed, but each shows potential for redemption. You root for these guys to win, in spite of themselves. A visit from the goon squad gives you no reason to care if they succeed or fail, and perhaps in the most irritating form of non-linear storytelling ever, the author decides to tell you the end of a character’s story arc right in the midst of another character’s story arc. Perhaps it’s an emotional overload- one way or the other, it’s impossible to feel truly involved with these people. And for that matter, what human beings have ever behaved this way? Egan insults the general intelligence of mankind as a whole by implying that the audience, by extension, is or has been in the past as completely retarded as some of the characters she’s created. Its one thing to be flawed, and another thing entirely to be completely and utterly moronic. People do things and have no idea why they’re doing them, they lie in situations where the truth would have been fine, and never seem to stop and think anything through past the point of instant gratification.
Another reviewer, this one from Time, called it “A new classic of American fiction.” Who decides who the classics are? Does a book have to be pretentious to be considered a classic? Does it have to be a miserable, dry reading experience? Yes, the novel itself is somewhat thought provoking, if in no other way than to force readers to remember to never behave as the characters they encounter in this novel tend to do.
Perhaps the most incorrect, in my humble opinion, is a review from none other than the New York Times itself, which claims Egan wrote a “dark, rippingly funny” book. There is nothing amusing about this novel. It is a painful, unpleasant experience. Perhaps that was her intent- to create a meta experience where her readers quite literally understand the anguish that is every one of her character’s lives.