For the most part, I enjoyed Jennifer Egan's The Keep. While I found her writing to be a little commonplace for lack of a better word, I did enjoy the story. In a lot of ways, this novel reminded me of The Ruins, only with stranger characters. The book opens up with a fairly typical urbanite, Danny (an overgrown connected club kid, right down to the earrings and pointy boots), making the pilgrimage to his cousin's castle. Howard, said cousin, has bought the entire German estate, including an ancient keep with its resident, an equally ancient member of the originating family who refuses to leave, and intends to renovate it as a resort -- one free of all modern communication, a place to reflect and unwind, only it's in ruins at the moment. Howard has asked Danny to come and help, and as a 36-year-old with no prospects, he comes as called.
Only there's a history between them. An incident. One that has rocked their relationship, and one that they need to work out as the story progresses. I am not going to spoil that here. What I will say is that alternating between the chapters where Danny finds himself in increasingly dangerous and injurious situations, you discover the novel's actual narrator, Ray. He's a prison inmate taking a creative writing class, and the story of the castle, of the keep, and of Howard and Danny, is actually his project. Teaching the class is Ann, and a strange, Shawshank-like relationship rears up between the two.
For a while, you wonder how it all relates: where does Ray's story come from, how does it all tie in together, and then Egan pulls out the twist, and the book changes perspectives. We're now looking at things from Ann's point of view, and this was the part of the book that I actually found the most intriguing. A former crystal meth addict, whose husband is still addicted, Ann is trying desperately to be a good mother to her two daughters, both of whom were subjected to their parents' awful behaviour.
Many of the characters feel cookie-cutter, like you could have pulled them from a bag of stereotypical characters from pop culture -- even Ann, "drug addicted mother" and Ray "far-too smart criminal," are a little too cookie cutter for my taste. But as far as a good commercial read goes, you don't get better than The Keep. It's creepy in all the right places but, like The Ruins, the true terror factor doesn't leap off the page as one would hope. There's one absolutely terrifying situation but I was constantly questioning the believability of the whole story throughout. Yet, I did find myself drawn to Ann, and to her vulnerability, and that's probably why I wished there were more from her perspective than just the last section of the novel. But I'm a sucker for hard-luck addict stories, hell, that's why I loved Lullabies for Little Criminals so much.
On the whole, I was terrifically creeped out by The Keep and found it a solid read, especially following The Guardians. Maybe January is the perfect month to read terrifically spooky books -- it's all dark, cold and snowy, and the nights seem to last forever, especially when you're up at odd hours like 2 AM, 4 AM, etc. But does this novel put me on a crash course to read every else Egan has ever written, not really. Certainly not like Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, which is why I'm halfway through Abide With Me at the moment. I'm hoping to finish it today because I have so much to say about it already -- the blog post is active in my mind. Now finding time to read and then write it all up, well that's an entirely different story.
READING CHALLENGES: Off the Shelf, of course. I'm getting tired of writing that sentence. I am not, however, getting tired of cleaning off my shelves. Now we just need more visitors who like to read so they can pick over my outgoing box of books so the novels can actually leave the house and be enjoyed by someone else!