The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

This was a debut novel?

No fair 😦 She’s too good at this.

Jennifer Egan wrote my all time favorite book, A Visit From the Goon Squad, so I vowed to read her other stuff this year. This was novel number two for me.

Phoebe O’Conner lives in San Francisco in the late 1970s. Her deceased father lead way to her deceased sister, Faith, and now she lives in somewhat of a half-alive state. She obsesses over her sister in an oddly loving way, while her mother and she fail to let go. The novel starts after Phoebe’s graduation, but all these events are explained in the most natural way, as if we already knew them as Phoebe does. Through jumps in time, that aren’t so much flashbacks, as reminiscences, we discover the O’Conner family and see Faith and her father through Phoebe’s disllusioned eyes. The title comes from a beautiful scene where Faith comes home one night with her boyfriend, Wolf, and friends they made at an event called the Invisible Circus. In the present, however, Phoebe eventually discovers her mother may be moving on without her, and so she sets off for Europe to retrace her sister’s steps in search of the magical feeling her sister brought into their lives.

First off, let me save you some time. Don’t watch the movie. It is awful. Not even the ninth doctor, Christopher Eccleston, could save it. It doesn’t alter anything from book to cinema form. It’s like they copy & pasted the book in Google Translate & whatever jibberish it spewed out, they smacked it on screen. I use it’s photo above simply to show you what you should stay far, far away from.

The book, however, is definitely worth some time.

Sentence by sentence this book is compelling. It’s over 300 pages and never felt too long or dragged out. Egan’s ability to take odd occurrences of human life and make them natural, but fateful is effortless.

The characters are all unique. You can easily relate to Phoebe, while simultaneously feeling envy and pity for Faith. The relationships between fictional characters never felt so real as the one between Phoebe and her mother. They share tiny communications that indicate much more throughout the novel…a look, a joke, a slight mention of a memory.

The dialogue is also wonderful and believable. When Phoebe travels to Belgium and France, you can almost hear accents in the syntax of the words spoken by the characters she meets there. Egan, herself, apparently has some major tie to Europe, expressing in interviews how she had a breakdown there that became crucial to her journey in becoming a writer. So it’s no wonder she writes about foreign places so well.

A few people have expressed the only unbelievable part was the minor “romance” plot toward the end. I can certainly see how it feels separate from the rest of the book, but it still felt necessary in order for Phoebe to arrive at the place she does by the time the end of the novel comes.

It’s no A Visit From the Goon Squad. The sentences aren’t strong, golden hits, but instead flow one into the next. The overall topic is less focused, more a section of a life-story than a well thought out literary piece. But it reads beautifully and her ability to fit entire lives into a few pages or so is worth the read. I’d say if the plot sounds interesting, give it a try, but don’t expect another Goon Squad.

I’m currently reading Black Box by Egan, which if you haven’t read, I highly recommend. It really showcases her ability to make every sentence matter. She wrote the entire story through a series of tweets, each bit was released in bursts of 140 characters or less. The full version is available on the New Yorker’s site. My next stop on the Egan train will probably be The Keep or Look At Me, so if anybody has read either of those let me know which you think I should read first. I think I just really like her style or something about her that seeps through into her writing.

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