BOOK: The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Goth tech-junkie Danny was surprised when his cousin Howie invited him to come to Eastern Europe to help convert an old castle into an upscale resort. It’s been twenty years since they last saw each other, and back when they were kids, Danny did something unforgivably horrible to Howie — something that changed Howie forever, and not in a good way. But Danny’s sort of on the run from angry mobsters these days, so, despite his trepidation, he decides any excuse to flee to the Czech Republic is probably a good one.

When he gets to the castle, Danny’s surprised to find that Howie is a changed man. He’s outrageously gleeful about the hotel project, and wildly in love with his wife and young son. He’s also got a close friend with him named Mick, and Mick and Danny bond pretty quickly, both being somewhat “other side of the tracks” compared to the insanely wealthy Howie. The more time Danny spends with Howie, though, the more he begins to realize why Howie actually brought him there. Danny’s always been charismatic, in a quiet sort of way (if that makes sense), and there’s this crazy baroness who has refused to move out of the castle’s keep. Can Danny somehow convince her to give up the castle so that Howie can complete the renovations? Or is she just crazy enough to, say, try doing them all in?

Alternating with this story is another tale, this time about a prisoner named Ray who recently joined a writing class — primarily as a way to escape his cell a few times a week. At first, his stories for class are provocative jokes, but he soon begins to craft a much more significant tale. One that slowly begins to merge with the story of Danny, Howie, and the castle keep.

And one that eventually leads to an attempt on Ray’s life. . .

I found this novel to be thought-provoking and engaging. And, even better, I was surprised by almost all of the twists, which is a pretty rare thing for me. I really enjoyed the writing and settings a lot, especially all the history and lore about the castle and its keep. But I will say that when I got to the end of this novel, I felt a little bit disappointed somehow. I’d really enjoyed the whole thing and been very gripped by it all along, and yet, I couldn’t really figure out what the point of the novel was. And sometimes it felt like substories were being introduced for ambiance rather than actual plot (like the tale of the two children who died at the castle hundreds of years ago). Sometimes novels don’t really HAVE points, of course — they just tell us a story and aim to entertain. But this book felt deeper than that — and yet, somehow not quite deep enough, all at the same time.

Nevertheless, despite the somewhat “huh?” feeling it left me with, I really enjoyed this book a lot and am looking forward to trying more of Egan’s novels soon. Recommended!
[FICTION]

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3 Responses to “BOOK: The Keep by Jennifer Egan”

  1. Nate Stearns Says:

    I’m with you on the book. At first I though it was going nowhere, and then the strange trips into gothic territory (esp. with the Baronness who is never well explained and just disappears in the end) made me worry for it. But JE can write! She has this sharp turn right before the cliche that worked for me. Until you got to the end and saw that return to the pool coming from a mile away. Did you read Look at Me?

  2. megwood Says:

    You know, I thought I’d read “Look At Me,” but if I did, I didn’t review it (can’t find anything else by her in my book review archives). I’m definitely going to look for more books by her — I’m assuming that’s the one you’d recommend I check out next? Any others of hers you’ve enjoyed?

  3. Brie Says:

    Hmm, just finished this one last week and remembered that you had reviewed it on here.
    I enjoyed it, I really didn’t see where it was going. I’m still not sure where some of the parts of the Danny story fit in, but it was revealed who was writing them, I think it made me wonder how much was actually true and invented. Still thinking on it, so I must have enjoyed it.

    Sorry to comment on a month old entry – I’m slow.

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