Jennifer Egan’s The Keep

November 20th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Continuing the series of homely, off-the-cuff reactions to novels I’m reading in T.C. Boyle’s grad fiction workshop this semester…

I loved the description of Davis’ ghost radio on page 97. Reading it—and not instinctively interpreting it as artifice, fantastical conceit, metaphor—made me look up from The Keep and realize just how completely into its world I’d gotten, how utterly accustomed I’d become to the unique terms it sets for its own skewed reality. Our—my—impulse when confronted with fantastical contraptions is skepticism and a slight discomfort. It’s the reaction we expect and get from our guiding narrator, our mediator between novelistic reality and our own (in this case, Ray). How (seriously) are we meant to take something patently insane? Pile on the impossible events, inventions, and a tacit bargain gets struck, the entire story ascends, floating over incredulity on its way to allegory, and jettisoning some immediacy on the way. But that’s not the tack The Keep takes. Even Ray’s skepticism is somehow muted, and shades into a befuddled willingness, a cautious acceptance, the why-not? shrug of a man with nothing to lose. The thrilling part was that I was ready to take the ghost radio on similar terms—that is, at face value. If Davis claimed it was a ghost radio, who knew? Maybe it was. The novel had somehow prepared me for this: to accept the cockamamie as cold fact. But how? By fostering an atmosphere of uncertainty? Or, within this atmosphere of uncertainty, this narrative intangibility where anything might happen, maintaining a scrupulous, hard-nosed realism? Because if anything was true, it was that at page 97, I had little idea what would happen next. » Read the rest of this entry «

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