truly one of my favorite books of all time
When I started thinking about books I?d like to review, Jennifer Egan?s novel ?The Invisible Circus? came to mind immediately. I found this novel in a used bookstore in the summer of 2001. Pat Conroy was one of my favorite authors, and his praise for this book intrigued me: ?If there were any justice in the world, no one would be allowed to write a first novel of such beauty and accomplishment.?
The story follows Phoebe, a recent graduate of high school in the late 1970?s, who is still trying to resolve her feelings about the life and death of her older sister, Faith. Growing up in San Francisco, Faith came of age in ?the ?60?s?, at the epicenter of the counterculture, the Beat poets, excitement about changes, talk of revolution. Since Phoebe was only a child at the time, she sees herself, Faith, and those times through the distorted mirror of a little sister?s awe. To find herself and find out what happened to Faith, Phoebe impulsively leaves on a trip, following Faith?s old postcards from her travels, like a treasure map. Phoebe?s discoveries ? in her own memories and in the stories of people who knew Faith in her last days ? are touching, mesmerizing, shocking, and ultimately, healing.
This is a story where the characters give us the chance to ask the question they themselves struggle with ? do we love the people in our lives for who they truly are, or who we imagine them to be? And how will we deal with the disparity between our beliefs and the reality of a person we love, especially if that truth is a sudden and unwelcome revelation? There are many books written about sisters, about the effect a death has on a family and the survivors, and on the experiences of people during the 1960?s. For me, ?The Invisible Circus? handles these intricate matters with an unparalled grace and clarity. Although Egan tackles complex emotions across a web of interconnected characters, the situations never feel contrived, and the resolution is satisfying and real ? unforced.
Since ?The Invisible Circus?, Jennifer Egan wrote a second novel, ?Look at Me?, that was a finalist for the National Book Award. With her third novel ? ?The Keep?? just released last month, she?s again receiving national attention.