The Candy House Discussion Questions
About the Book
Bix Bouton’s company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. It’s 2010. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious”—which allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.
Jennifer Egan’s newest novel, The Candy House, spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Intellectually dazzling, The Candy House is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. In the world of Egan’s spectacular imagination, there are “counters” who track and exploit desires and there are “eluders,” those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets.
Joining Karah Preiss and guest host Betty Cayouette (of Betty’s Book List) as part of the Belletrist Book Club, author Jennifer Egan takes a deep dive into The Candy House, covering topics such as technology, the collective consciousness, shame, and social media, and taking The Candy House to a whole new level.
- Why do you think Bix Bouton disguises himself as a graduate students? Do you think there is a deeper reason for him wanting to become a different person (other than not being recognized as a tech mogul)?
- What do you think the “Self-Surveillance Era” is as it pertains to The Candy House? Are we living in some version of it right now? Why or why not?
- If it were available in today’s world, do you think people would choose to upload their memories to the Mandala Cube? Why or why not?
- In The Candy House, Drew says, “how can I erase awareness that has permeated every minute of my life since the event itself?”. How did you see trauma dealt with in the fictionalized world of The Candy House? Is trauma something to be extracted and done away with, or should it be handled differently? How are we still ourselves if we externalize our trauma?
- In the chapter Rhyme Scheme, why do you think M is reduced to several data points, and how does this relate to the theme of the book? Why do you think, as a counter would say, that “possessing data, in itself, is neither useful or predictive?”
- What is The Mondrian in this novel, and do you think the group is modeled after any real life group or movement? If you were talking to a Mondrian member, what do you think would be their reason for going against the grain?
- What do you think the novel is trying to say about parenting through the elusive nature of Miranda Kline?
- In the book a billboard reads, “Never trust a candy house!” How does this billboard connect to the theme of the novel? Why do you think you should never trust a candy house?
- Egan writes, “Not every story needs to be told.” How do you think this statement relates to modern society and our relationships with tech and social media?
- Who is Bennie Salazar in “A Visit From the Goon Squad” versus Bennie Salazar in “The Candy House”? Or Stephanie? Or Dolly?
- What do you think The Candy House is saying about the nature of nostalgia?
- Roxy is disgusted by experiencing her trip to London through her father’s eyes. What do you think the book is trying to say about the nature of perspective? What do you think it means for these characters to be able to read someone else’s mind and memories?
About the Author
Jennifer Egan is the author of six previous books of fiction: Manhattan Beach, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction; A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Keep; the story collection Emerald City; Look at Me, a National Book Award Finalist; and The Invisible Circus. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Granta, McSweeney's, and The New York Times Magazine. Her website is JenniferEgan.com.