I just finished this book, assigned for my Creative Writing class, and I am having a little trouble living in the real world now.
This book is such a complex myriad of characters, relationships, points of view, tenses, and time periods, and they are all jumbled up so the reader is confused at the beginning of each chapter. But that’s how life is.
There is no main character in this book by Jennifer Egan, and at first this disturbed me. But thinking about it more, I like this perspective. Again, it mirrors life in an uncanny way–we all think we are the central characters, and we are important. But so is everyone else. We are the protagonist in our own stories, but in someone else’s, we are a side character. A love interest. A fleeting glance on the street. A shoulder to lean on. An antagonist. And this book so accurately portrays the branching connections and seemingly coincidental meetings of characters so it seems like some things were meant to be.
The stories jump around a lot, so we get many points of reference for some characters, but they aren’t consecutive or even consistent. Some narrators are unreliable, and there are huge gaps in some characters’ lives. In this way we can see many facets of their personalities and how they grew through time, and this made me feel even more connected to the characters.
Many of the characters feel as though their life has slipped away from them, or perhaps the better things are already gone. But there is always a chance to turn it around. Human nature will create a norm, a cultural standard, like the spread of tattoos and drug culture in the hippie age. At the time, it was considered a rebellion. But in our age, or in the near future, what happens once it’s the majority of people participating and it’s not longer edgy to belong to this group? We will revert back to our soft-spoken, toned-down selves. And this group will be the edgy, cool minority until it’s not.
The theme that stuck with me the most was loss of innocence. Almost every character experiences an event that causes their world view to shift dramatically, and after, they are never the same. Some characters experience multiple, causing them to undergo drastic personality changes twice in the their lives. I liked how no one’s life turned out how they thought it would. Every character was flawed, and some were hopeless. But that’s reality! Some people’s lives turn out better than others, and we can’t explain why.
This book left me with the feeling that we often don’t appreciate what we have until we’re about to lose it, metaphorically comparing life to a song. When there is a long pause incorporated, we notice–and we think it’s odd, because songs aren’t supposed to have pauses like that. And we think it’s over. But then the song resumes and we can be happy because it’s not over, even though the song has to end someday. The passage of time is something no one can stop, no matter their age, status, or personality. Every person has to come to terms with it and cope the best they can. We will always look back on our younger lives with nostalgia and longing no matter how they were lived.
I would definitely recommend this book. It can be hard to understand with all the shifting in perspectives and forms, but if you can wrap your brain around the style, it is worth it.