Egan, Jennifer 1962-
Egan, Jennifer 1962-
Born September 7, 1962, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Donald Egan (a lawyer) and Kay Kimpton (an art dealer); married David Herskovits (a theater director), June 25, 1994; children: two sons. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1985; St. John's College, Cambridge, M.A., 1987.
Writer, novelist, journalist, short story writer, and editor.
Cosmopolitan/Perrier Short Story Award, 1991; fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Guggenheim Foundation, 1996; National Book Award finalist, 2001, for Look at Me.
The Invisible Circus (novel), Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.
Emerald City and Other Stories (short stories), Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Look at Me (novel), Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.
The Keep (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals and anthologies, including New Yorker, Harper's Zoetrope, GQ, Madamoiselle, Ploughshares, McSweeney's, and the New York Times magazine.
Contributor to anthologies, including Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards.
The Keep has been optioned for film by StillKing Films.
Fiction writer Jennifer Egan saw her stories in print in some very prestigious magazines, including the New Yorker and GQ, before her first novel, The Invisible Circus, was published by Doubleday in 1995. She quickly followed this well-reviewed book with a collection of short stories, Emerald City and Other Stories. Egan once told CA that "she has since developed a parallel career as a journalist, writing cover stories on many topics including homeless children in New York, Catholic seminarians, and gays in the military. In an interview on the Bookslut Web site, interviewer Donna Seaman remarked that Egan is "both a captivating storyteller and an incisive social observer. Creative and venturesome, she has taken a different approach in each of her fictional works, and all are shaped by her beautifully calibrated lyricism, precise psychology, uncanny insights into cultural trends, and keen satire. Egan is fascinated by the interplay between the world of appearances and the inner realm of feeling and thought, and considers with open-mindedness our longing for transcendence."
The protagonist of The Invisible Circus is Phoebe O'Connor, whose sister, Faith, eight years her senior, leapt from a cliff in Italy under mysterious circumstances after becoming immersed in the political and psychedelic counterculture of the late 1960s. Though Phoebe was only ten when her sister died, she grew up mesmerized by Faith's brief, chaotic life and crushed by a certainty that her own would never match its intensity. At eighteen, Phoebe bolts from her San Francisco home to Europe. There, armed with the postcards Faith sent home during the trip that ended in her death, Phoebe begins following her sister's itinerary, awaiting her own entry to the transcendent world she believes Faith reached. What she learns about her sister's death is far more troubling and complex than Phoebe could have imagined, yet is finally, unexpectedly, liberating.
Critics have offered much praise for The Invisible Circus. Dave Edelman, reviewing the volume in the Washington Post Book World, felt Egan had overdone some of its 1960s atmosphere but declared it to be "an auspicious first novel for a very promising writer." Alice Truax, writing in the New York Times Book Review, asserted that the story of Phoebe and Faith "is told with great assurance and power. Ms. Egan portrays the sisters with a quiet, heartbreaking clarity—she understands perfectly that grieving children will gladly exchange their futures for the privilege of remaining faithful to the dead who have left them behind." Times Literary Supplement contributor Sarah Francis hailed the novel as "a powerful and often disturbing study of the profound reverberations of death within a family." Francis concluded: "Egan weaves a colorful web of repetitions and reworkings, further tangled by her creative use of metaphor and her eye for the smallest detail."
Emerald City and Other Stories includes "Sacred Heart," a tale of a Catholic schoolgirl, troubled by her parents' divorce, who becomes obsessed with a classmate prone to self-mutilation. In "Why China?" a businessman, dragging his family through China for reasons he himself is not sure of, encounters the man who swindled him out of 25,000 dollars two years earlier. The title story concerns a photographer's assistant and his girlfriend, a failing fashion model who has been told her look is not "ugly" enough to succeed in today's market. They live in New York, which Egan compares to the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, a chaos of glittering surfaces that suggest great meaning and depth but are finally empty. Like The Invisible Circus, Emerald City and Other Stories has garnered its share of appreciation from literary critics. In the New York Times Book Review, Donna Seaman hailed the building blocks of this collection as "boldly modulated short stories, tales of displacement and blazing moments of truth." Claire Messud, of the Times Literary Supplement, called it "a privilege to be taken with Egan on the world tour of her characters' lives …. These stories are elegant, and full of insight."
Look at Me stars Charlotte Swenson, a New York fashion model whose face has to be reconstructed after a car accident hurled her through the windshield. During her recovery in Rockford, Illinois, she meets the teenaged daughter of her childhood friend, also named Charlotte, who is isolated from her friends and family and spends most of her time with her eccentric uncle and her math teacher, with whom she is having an affair. When Swenson returns to New York with a completely new face, she meets a detective who's searching for her former boyfriend, Z, a shady character who has several hidden identities—one of which is as a math teacher in Rockford. He is also a Middle Eastern terrorist with plans to attack Manhattan.
In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Salter Reynolds wrote: "Look at Me is a complicated novel, sometimes too complicated, but the questions it raises are worth following a lifetime of labyrinths toward the answer." In Time, Laura Miller called the book "an unlikely blend of tabloid luridness and brainy cultural commentary."
Coincidentally, the book was released in the same week that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, resulting in a flood of publicity, since Egan's fiction seemed to anticipate life in its portrayal of foreign terrorists lurking in American society, waiting to make their move. In the Boston Herald, Egan told Rosemary Herbert that the character of Z was inspired, in small part, by a man she knew during her time at Cambridge University: "He was one of those big personalities who turned out not to be enrolled at the university. He just vanished. I wondered, ‘Who was he? What was he after? It just lodged in my mind.’"
In Egan's atmospheric and gothic novel The Keep, hip and ultra-modern American Danny has been asked by his estranged cousin Howard to travel to an undisclosed foreign country to help him transform a dank and dreary old castle into a hotel for those seeking a return to simpler lives not enslaved to computers, the Internet, and other modern electronic conveniences. Danny is suspicious of Howard, who bears a long-standing grudge against him, and the presence of the castle's last baroness, still living in the fortified keep, makes the situation all the more unusual. As the tale of the two cousins unfolds, the narrative shifts abruptly, revealing that the story of Howard and Danny is actually part of an assignment written by prison inmate Ray for his creative writing class, hoping that the work will impress writing instructor Holly. Egan, "in clear and often witty prose, spins a tale of old-fashioned grip that argues for the liberating effects of fantasy and, not unrelatedly, for the enduring significance of the shudder," remarked Joseph O'Neill, writing in the Atlantic Monthly.
Egan's story is an "engrossing narrative told in prose that's remarkably fresh and inventive," stated Library Journal reviewer Barbara Hoffert. "Egan's brilliance is in balancing the deliciously creepy elements of gothic-castle novels" with the "dead-on realism" of the life of an incarcerated man, commented Elissa Schappell in Vanity Fair. "As you finish this novel, part horror tale, part mystery, part romance, the mind lingers over it, amazed by how vivid Egan has made it, how witty, how disturbing, how credible, and yet how utterly fantastic," commented Vince Passaro in O, the Oprah Magazine. "Some threads of the story are semi-bizarre, others quite sordidly realistic. Egan weaves them all together with an admirably deft touch, but more impressive than her craftsmanship is the emotional authenticity she achieves," stated Madison Smartt Bell in the New York Times Book Review. Bell concluded that Egan's novel is "both prodigiously entertaining and profoundly moving."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, October 1, 2006, Joseph O'Neill, review of The Keep, p. 119.
Booklist, May 1, 2006, Kristine Huntley, review of The Keep, p. 5.
Books, August 13, 2006, "A Gothic Setting for a Tale of Power and Betrayal," review of The Keep, p. 9; September 24, 2006, Elizabeth Taylor, review of The Keep, p. 2.
Boston Herald, November 15, 2001, Rosemary Herbert, "Look at Me Gets Noticed for Portraying Terrorist View," p. 77.
Current Biography, March 1, 2002, "Egan, Jennifer," p. 14.
Daily Variety, October 27, 2006, Gabriel Snyder, "Still King Books The Keep for Kruger," p. 17.
Entertainment Weekly, August 4, 2006, Nicholas Fonseca, review of The Keep, p. 71.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2006, review of The Keep, p. 367.
Library Journal, April 15, 2006, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Keep, p. 65.
Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2001, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Look at Me, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 5, 1995, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Look at Me, p. 2.
New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1995, Alice Truax, review of The Invisible Circus, p. 46; March 17, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Emerald City and Other Stories, p. 16; April 20, 1997, review of Emerald City and Other Stories, p. 32; September 23, 2001, Katherine Dieckman, review of Look at Me, p. 22; July 30, 2006, Madison Smartt Bell, "Into the Labyrinth," review of The Keep, p. 1.
O, the Oprah Magazine, August 1, 2006, Vince Passaro, "Your Castle or Mine? Old and New Worlds Collide in Jennifer Egan's Chilling and Elegant Novel," review of The Keep, p. 148.
Poets & Writers Magazine, September 1, 2006, "Powers of Perception," p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, April 3, 2006, review of The Keep, p. 34.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2006, Jennie Yabroff, "Hearing Voices," review of The Keep, p. D1.
Time, January 15, 1996, Ginia Bellafante, review of Emerald City and Other Stories, p. 72; November 12, 2001, Laura Miller, review of Look at Me, p. 89.
Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 1993, Claire Messud, review of Emerald City and Other Stories, p. 24; July 14, 1995, Sarah Francis, review of The Invisible Circus, p. 22.
Vanity Fair, August, 2006, Elissa Schappell, "Dark Shadows," review of The Keep, p. 72.
Village Voice, July 28, 3006, Theo Schell-Lambert, "I Capture the Castle," review of The Keep.
Washington Post Book World, March 26, 1995, Dave Edelman, review of The Invisible Circus, p. 6.
Writer, May 1, 2007, Sarah Anne Johnson, "Jennifer Egan on the Importance of Atmosphere: That, along with Voice and Ideas, Drives Her Impressively Varied Fiction," profile of Jennifer Egan, p. 18.
Agony Column,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (December 5, 2006), Rick Kleffel, review of The Keep.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (August 5, 2007), Kathy Weissman, review of The Keep.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (August 5, 2007), Maureen McClarnon, review of The Keep; Donna Seaman, interview with Jennifer Egan.
Jennifer Egan Home Page,http://www.jenniferegan.com (August 5, 2007).
ReviewsOfBooks.com,http://www.reviewsofbooks.com/ (August 5, 2007), W.R. Greer, "Tales from the Keep," review of The Keep.