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The Keep by Jennifer Egan
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The Keep (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Jennifer Egan

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1,528774,810 (3.4)128
Member:RavenousReaders
Title:The Keep
Authors:Jennifer Egan
Info:Anchor (2007), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Pima County Public Library, pcpl, renovation, cousins, suspence, crime, staff pick

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The Keep by Jennifer Egan (2006)

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English (74)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  English (77)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Sometimes craft works to transport the reader and sometimes it isolates. That’s how it felt toward the end of this book, however much I enjoyed it until that point. There’s a deliberate conceit that works on some levels - that prisoner Ray is telling the story of Danny and Howard; their past and their present, and that he’s looking for the approval of his writing teacher Holly; a woman who is drawn to Ray, but keeps herself apart, he’s a prisoner after all. That’s how the narrative is split; Danny’s escalating predicament at the castle, Ray’s precarious situation in prison and Holly at the end, trying to hold on to her family and herself. It should work. It should hook me and make me care, but I saw through it to the writer and the illusion fractured.

Spoilers.

Maybe it’s because I read A Visit from the Goon Squad first; a novel full of the author’s idea of what makes a novel “different”. It’s quirky for quirky’s sake as much as I liked the interweaving stories. And that’s how this felt. That the writer was having me on and laughing; that she couldn’t just write a straight-up book and keep everyone interested. She had to do weird stuff instead, a la John Fowles, but not as impenetrably elegant as he did it. Especially when in the Howard/Danny story Ray turns out to be Mick and has shot Danny only to have some semi-mystical thing happen where he seems to be also looking out of Danny’s eyes. It’s a vehicle in more than one sense; one to close a circle in the two stories and also I think it was the mechanism for Ray and Davis’s escape from jail. There wasn’t a whole lot said about that other than the fact of it and Holly comes under some scrutiny for her involvement with Ray. The ending is oddly fey for what has come before; Holly deciding to check into the hotel that is now finished and called The Keep. She’s searching for Ray, hoping he’ll show up there and when she doesn’t find him off the bat she thinks that the pool holds the key and her dive is the last scene.

The mystical aspect of the story didn’t work for me. It’s as if the complexity of the plot got the better of the writer and she didn’t know how to tie things up. Iain Pears would have known and so I can’t do more than give Egan props for trying. ( )
  Bookmarque | Aug 22, 2016 |
A few hedges before we enter the review's fray. Two people I know, whose literary opinions I respect, deeply hated this novel. I, on the other hand, loved it. Couldn't, as it were, put it down. Which brings me to the second hedge: I didn't read this; I listened to it on audio (thus the prior sentence's "as it were"). And it's altogether possible that the process of converting the novel from written to audio form somehow changed the work for the better. Which is entirely possible, if not probable. Take for instance my recent experience of reading David Foster Wallace's Pale King and immediately afterward listening to the audiobook version. There's one chapter near the end where one of the IRS's higher-ups is dosed w/ what was probably LSD at a company picnic. The encounter, on the page, at least for this reader, was only mildly amusing. The audio version, however, had me in hysterics. Why? Well, the audio's narrator added certain pauses and vocal inflections that absolutely nailed the piece. Moreover, he (the narrator) gave the IRS higher-up a staccato "Just the Facts, Ma'am," Joe Friday voice. Which voice, it turns out, was the key to unlocking the written scene's latent comic power.

Anyway, Egan's The Keep's narrative braids three separate narratives, told by three separate narrators, into one grand story. There's Danny’s story, about him and Howard (Danny’s cousin). Back when they were kids, Danny nearly killed Howard when he (Danny) pulled a rather mean prank on him; now Danny has been invited to work for Howard in a venture that may or may not be the means of Howard’s revenge against Danny. Story two, Ray’s story, is about a convict writing about Danny and Howard; yet Ray is also part of the Danny and Howard story in ways that become apparent only at the end, shockingly. Lastly, there’s Holly, the prison’s creative writing teacher, Ray’s secret love, who concludes the novel. At the center of all the stories is The Keep, a 12th-century tower in Germany around which a castle was built over the subsequent few centuries. The Keep, the tower, is a monolith of mystery and grandeur, the story’s real center.

Egan, a master tale-weaver, braids the three stories in a self-aware almost post-modern narrative -- yet there’s warmth and feeling here, too, like a warm hand to hold in the movie theater’s thrilling darkness. Best of all, as mentioned earlier, The Keep is a major page-turner, as it were; it kept me hanging on happily till the end. I was both satisfied with the tale’s conclusion and sad to see it told to the end. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
The tale of a creative-writing prisoner writing a Gothic tale within a tale. Egan keeps us guessing until the end. Who is writing this tale after all? ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
How easy it is, to spend one’s life anticipating a pivotal moment when everything will sense.
From pg 69, Danny is waiting for:
“THE THING. Danny had no idea what the thing was. All he knew was that he lived more or less in a constant state of expecting something any day, any hour, that would change everything, knock the world upside down and put Danny’s whole life into perspective as a story of complete success, because every twist and turn and snag and fuckup would always have been leading up to this.”
Egan’s story lures the reader into a gothic world of ambiguity, where we search and search for THE THING that will give meaning.
  Mary_Overton | Oct 10, 2015 |
I picked up Jennifer Egan's The Keep because, well, Halloween, and for its premise: three different stories told by three different narrators that intertwine for an unusual twist on the gothic tale. The Keep opens with a seemingly traditional gothic tale. Danny arrives at the doorstep of a castle somewhere in central Europe after a maddeningly long and confusing journey. He's tired and disoriented and before him, in all its glory, is a mysterious castle, heavy with atmosphere and history, something out of a fevered dream. Danny has a history of his own too, as it seems all protagonists do in gothic tales. He's an ex-con who bounced around a bit, and has recently gotten into the kind of trouble that involves busted kneecaps (he walks with a limp when we first meet him). When his cousin Howard calls him out of the blue and invites him to help with a castle renovation, dangling a one-way ticket, Danny is quickly on board. Serendipity or so it seems.

Now cue the organ music to highlight that something is amiss.

We learn that the relationship between Danny and Howard isn't so straightforward. A horrible childhood incident (recounted in flashback) has marred their lives forever, and you begin to suspect that Howard's motives might be more sinister. As the days go by, Danny's perceptions of the castle begin to darken. Egan gets a little heavy-handed with the foreshadowing when Howard reveals his renovation plans for the castle: to turn it into a new-age retreat for people to get in touch with their inner imaginations. Howard argues that TV and movies and other forms of passive entertainment have impoverished the mind, that we don't know how to tell ourselves stories anymore. Danny balks at this and then starts to become increasingly paranoid about his cousin's true intentions. Perhaps his cousin has brought him here to enact some revenge fantasy on him as payback for that long-ago but never forgotten, cruel childhood prank. Egan's brilliant, slow poison starts to take effect, and we see Danny start to unravel.

The fourth wall breaks early on with this line, so watch for it: "You? Who the hell are you? That’s what someone must be saying right about now. Well, I’m the guy talking. Someone’s always doing the talking, just a lot of times you don’t know who it is or what their reasons are. My teacher, Holly, told me that." The line comes like a slap right in the middle of Danny's narrative. The trespassing authorial presence seems to engage us directly, and suddenly the gothic creepiness dissolves into something more ominous. Who is telling this story?

Cue the second story. We find out that the first story is an account being written by another character, Ray. Ray is a convict in a max security prison doing time for murder. He's writing about Danny and Howard as part of a creative writing course. He claims the story is true, told to him by a friend, and yet it's obvious that Ray is more involved in the story's events than he's letting on. In this narrative, Egan mostly shows Ray growing more and more infatuated with this writing teacher, Holly.

In the third story, Holly becomes our narrator, and we learn how she's become emotionally involved with Ray and how the castle story about Danny and Howard connects them somehow. The connection is more emotional and psychological at first, and later becomes something much more real. Or so it seems.

I can't make up my mind about The Keep. On one hand, it's a mind-bending Mobius strip of a book; on the other, it feels gimmicky, and besides, other writers have done it and done it better. But I suspect there's something there meant to fool us, to make us dismiss it too quickly. (To show our flawed, impoverished imaginations perhaps?) On the whole, the book is a story about childhood demons that never quite go away, psychological traumas that come back and become real-world dangers. To her credit, Egan creates some genuinely horrifying moments. The scenes of Danny walking around the castle grounds; the dark pool of sludge he ponders; the keep with its strange occupant, a malevolent baroness who refuses to vacate the castle; the small town whose streets become a maze that Danny can't navigate; the claustrophobia-inducing underground tunnels—all nightmarish. But the way the book is structured—with its second story intruding early on—Egan robs the book of some of the psychological complexity it could be building up, and we never truly have the gothic aspects to ourselves. We're always made aware that it's *just* a story.

Though I now wonder...could this all be some kind of larger authorial trick? I started to suspect this by the time I got to the Holly story. OK, I thought, here's a book that has three strands woven together in a tight braid. There are twists and turns that are clever, though mostly obvious, and then Egan drops the narrative magic altogether by the time we get to Holly's story. At this point, I was feeling cheated, like the complex layers of narrative had all been too contrived and forced.

As I started thinking more about Holly, though, I began to develop other ideas. Egan is being very, very deliberate with Holly. Holly's narrative is supposed to be the 'real' part of the story, where all illusions drop away, where the veil is finally lifted. But I suspect that Egan is actually showing us the real 'gothic' story with Holly. *SPOILER AHEAD: In the last few pages, Holly decides to drop everything and visit the castle from Ray's story. She gets on a plane and make the journey, exactly as Danny does in the first story. I couldn't help but think she was entering her own fever dream. In fact, she desperately and irrationally hopes that Ray might be there so they can reunite. In one section, Holly even assumes the character of the baroness locked away in the keep. The book finally ends with a surreal scene with Holly stepping into the pool of imagination.*

The Keep is much more complex for its own good, much like the castle, and maybe even our imaginations, with all its impenetrable walls, unfathomable depths, and dark passageways. ( )
  gendeg | Oct 31, 2014 |
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For the little boys, Manu and Raoul
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The castle was falling apart, but at 2 a.m. under a useless moon, Danny couldn't see this.
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From National Book Award finalist Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me ("Brilliantly unnerving...A haunting, sharp, splendidly articulate novel" The New York Times), a spellbinding work of literary suspense enacted in a chilling psychological landscape — a dazzling tour de force.

Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank whose devastating consequences changed both their lives, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe, a castle steeped in blood lore and family pride. Built over a secret system of caves and tunnels, the castle and its violent history invoke and subvert all the elements of a gothic past: twins, a pool, an old baroness, a fearsome tower. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story — a story about two cousins who unite to renovate a castle — that brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.

Egan's relentlessly gripping page-turner plays with rich forms — ghost story, love story, gothic — and transfixing themes: the undertow of history, the fate of imagination in the cacophony of modern life, the uncanny likeness between communications technology and the supernatural. In a narrative that shifts seamlessly from an ancient European castle to a maximum security prison, Egan conjures a world from which escape is impossible and where the keep — the last stand, the final holdout, the place you run to when the walls are breached — is both everything worth protecting and the very thing that must be surrendered in order to survive.

A novel of fierce intelligence and velocity; a bravura performance from a writer of consummate skill and style.
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Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank whose devastating consequences changed both their lives, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe, a castle steeped in blood lore and family pride. Built over a secret system of caves and tunnels, the castle and its violent history invoke and subvert all the elements of a gothic past: twins, a pool, an old baroness, a fearsome tower. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story--a story about two cousins who unite to renovate a castle--that brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.… (more)

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