The Keep by Jennifer Egan – Review

The Keep is a novel centering around two stories, one about two cousins coming together 20 years after a horrible act committed by one against the other, the second focused around a woman teaching creative writing at a prison. There’s a clear metafictional quality to the work and you are left with the inability to trust any of the narrators.

Still, it was a work that left me unsatisfied. The whole metafictional aspect of it doesn’t win brownie points from me. Writers have been writing about other writers writing for too long to care about. It’s nice but it doesn’t hook me.

The problem, for me, is that I’m not entirely sure what my problem is. It was an enjoyable read, it was a quick read. Part of my problem are the characters. They don’t seem fleshed out and the Mom on Drugs character seems like someone recycled ad nauseum. This is something my girlfriend and I talked about the other day at lunch, how the recovering drug addict seems to be everywhere now. It seems as if we live in a world where drug addicts no longer exist but only recovering drug addicts and all recovering drug addicts are characters with clear weaknesses trying to be strong. It seems as if there can’t be characters who are essentially good but who also happen to kinda do heroin on the side. The days of Sherlock Holmes are gone.

Of course, there’s always the refutation that the story in The Keep is secondary to what it says about writing itself, to the very metafictional qualities that I shove to the side. And to this I say we must simply come from separate schools of writing/reading. I am not a believer in books with a message as the message sending being the primary goal. I think you end up with works that ultimately come up short of their intended goals and leave much promise unfulfilled. The example I think is best is Ayn Rand. She is clearly pushing a philosophy of her writing but the philosophy just gets in the way of her story telling. She seems to set on making a point rather than telling a good tale and the work suffers because of it.

The Keep strikes me as a work in a similar vein. The metafictional qualities it has, its exploring of authorship, its doubling of stories back over the other, are nice talking points but could have been more interesting had the stories themselves been more engaging. As it is, The Keep feels more like an exercise in metafiction than an attempt at a novel.

However, none of this is to say it’s a bad read. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and it makes me curious about what other work Egan has done.

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