Jennifer Egan talks about craft, the future and ‘The Candy House’

She’ll be discussing the sibling book to “A Visit From the Goon Squad” in a virtual presentation by Oxford Exchange.
Jennifer Egan's new novel is "The Candy House."
Jennifer Egan's new novel is "The Candy House." [ Pieter M. Van Hattem ]
Published Mar. 9|Updated Mar. 12

Jennifer Egan always knew she’d return to the characters in her acclaimed 2011 novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad.”

“I never stopped thinking about them,” she says.

Just a year after that book was published, a short story about one of its characters was published in tweet form over 10 nights by the New Yorker. That story became a chapter in Egan’s “The Candy House,” published last year and just released in paperback. Egan is on tour to talk about “The Candy House,” and one of her stops will be a virtual event on March 13 presented by the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.

Related: Read a review of "The Candy House."

“A Visit From the Goon Squad” took the literary world by storm. A novel made up of 13 linked short stories packed with intriguing characters, it ranged from the 1970s to about 15 years in the future, bending time and experimenting with form — one notable chapter was a PowerPoint presentation.

“Goon Squad” won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction. Egan’s three previous novels had been well received critically, but “Goon Squad” made her a star.

Her next book, “Manhattan Beach,” was a historical novel set in New York during World War II, traditional and linear in form. In “The Candy House” she returns to the linked story form, and to the future, with themes related to technology and social media and their human impacts.

At her website,, she gives readers an inside look at the experimentation that went into the book, letting them view the “archeology” of chapter versions: “The failures, but I’ve stopped calling them that. They’re part of the process.”

She talked with the Tampa Bay Times via Zoom. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When we talked a few years ago after “Manhattan Beach” was published, you said of “Goon Squad” that “Futurism is a sucker’s game.” But now you’re back to the future in “The Candy House.” How did that happen?

Futurism is never the draw per se, but if I want to write about characters in the present and what happens in their lives, sometimes I have to go there.

The reason I ended up in the future in (“Goon Squad”) in the first place was that I wanted to see Alex, who we see as a very young adult in 2006, in the middle of his life. Well, I didn’t have a lot of options. I so resisted it that I considered moving the entire timeline back 10 or 20 years. But then I would have lost punk rock and be edging into Elvis, and whoa, I didn’t want any of that.

The futurism I imagined, which I do very vaguely, in “Goon Squad” has been superseded and largely matched by the present.

So with “The Candy House” once again I was confronted with, if I want to follow people who were children in 2010 I don’t have any choice about going into the future.

Unlike books invested in presenting a vision of the future, I’m basically just doing what suits me best narratively. I just want to write fun stories about people who feel alive.

There’s actually something very freeing about writing into the future: I can just make it up.

In “The Candy House” I found I was imagining the present differently. The technology in “The Candy House” is a kind of a through line but also a throwaway. I mean, I don’t spend a lot of time examining its permutations, because first of all it’s not a new idea, and second, it’s not what I’m interested in.

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One theme in “The Candy House” is that of unintended consequences. For example, one character, Miranda Kline, writes a book about human connection that ends up, much to her chagrin, being the inspiration for the social media empire of another character, Bix Bouton. And that’s just one of many examples. Did you have unintended consequences in mind?

In a way the weight of unintended consequences is so pervasive for me, mainly because of climate change, which I never mention in “The Candy House,” but it’s the atmosphere we all live in.

But climate change is so serious it stops me, as a writer of fiction. I’m into the nuances and the messiness. Judgment is just the kiss of death. I want to watch people live their lives.

I’m very attuned to unintended consequences. We hurtle forward into possibilities with excitement and hope, but things go wrong.

There are evil masterminds out there, but they’re mostly in the movies. Conspiracies are all too easy. If only there were one actor that you could just ferret out and solve all the problems.

Conspiracy theories are so popular because they’re deeply comforting. They also place the theorists in a position of tremendous power and importance because they’re the ones who know. But in truth reality is extremely messy and very hard to summarize in those ways, and well-meaning people do things that turn out badly in ways they would hate. We’ve seen that with the internet — a lot of the original proselytizers have recanted.

Social media have a big impact on many of the characters in “The Candy House.” Some of them become what you call eluders, people who drop out of social media but hire people — some of them “underemployed fiction writers” — to maintain proxy presences for them on those media. What inspired that?

The more invasive technology becomes, it’s just natural there’s a faction that resists and finds a way to revolt.

The reason it felt exciting to me is that it feels very close to what already exists. It’s just a slight tweaking to make it more outrageous and extra. There’s an unbelievable amount of personal information out there in the form of the internet.

So how do you escape from that? I’m just playfully following the rules of common sense and logic. The way you escape without calling attention to your escape is to pretend you’re still there.

I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, but one of the things that’s striking is the amount of faking. Not just Russian bots and stuff, but people representing themselves.

It’s all about selling — selling your vacation, selling your perfect family. It’s what I’d basically call propaganda, not with a capital “P,” but it’s a realm where wishes are represented rather than reality.

I’m always surprised how much I can learn about someone, even someone I don’t know, on social media. I’m a person who likes looking in windows, so this is a way of doing that metaphorically. I can learn a hell of a lot more than I can looking in a window on a Brooklyn street.

The idea of a fiction writer being a kind of ventriloquist seems natural to me. That sort of impersonation is what fiction writers do. That’s our job.

The Candy House

By Jennifer Egan

Scribner, 368 pages, $17.99

Meet the author

Jennifer Egan will discuss “The Candy House” with Times book editor Colette Bancroft in a Zoom presentation by the Oxford Exchange at 6:30 p.m. March 13. Free; register for the Zoom link at

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new details about Egan’s virtual appearance.