Literary review pretentiousness to get out of the way: beautiful, spare prose. Interesting structure: a series of almost-vignettes with loose connections via the characters. A sense of continuity and yet incompleteness as we get only glimpses into each of the lives portrayed. I can see why it won the Pulitzer.
It’s the kind of book you read for the construction of it, for the writing. It’s not the kind of book you read for character, and certainly not for story. If you are in the habit of reading for character or story, there will be difficult moments when you’re trying to figure out who’s narrating. Sometimes it’s first person (and hence unnamed); sometimes it takes ages to establish the connection between chapters. And it’s not just the characters: time jumps inconsistently between chapters, and that can also be difficult to adapt to.
I can’t unequivocally say that I enjoyed it, in part because I don’t think I “got” it. (Not that full understanding is necessary for enjoyment: there are things that I enjoy without really understanding them, like the works of T.S. Eliot.) I would, however, like to study it. Structure is something I’m becoming more and more interested in, and this book is very structurally interesting. I want to map it. I want a bubble map or spider map of the characters in each chapter and how they’re connected. I wonder how flexible the chapter order is, and how much Jennifer Egan and her editor played with that before publication.
There are also a couple of themes that I’d like to review on rereading, to see if they carry through or if they’re coincidental. The main one is the theme of pauses. The chapter that I found most interesting deals very explicitly with pauses. It’s in the form of PowerPoint slides, so white space is very important. It also describes pauses in various songs, sometimes very technically. Personally, I thought it was not only the most interesting chapter in the book, but also the one that I understood the most. The characters were all very clear, even the ones who were fairly peripheral to the chapter. One part of the structural map I’m eventually going to make, then, is going to determine the pauses of the chapters. I can think of at least one other chapter off the top of my head that ends with a pause, and I wonder if there are others.
And now, onto something more narratively straightforward, less mentally taxing.