The Keep
Jennifer Egan
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Buy *The Keep* by Jennifer Egan online

The Keep
Jennifer Egan
256 pages
August 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Burdened with his mistakes of long ago and seeking to escape the randomness and chaos of New York, Danny King arrives at a sinister medieval castle in Eastern Europe which he has been given the offer of helping his cousin Howie renovate into a luxury retreat.

Danny and Howie hide baggage from a cloudy past, a childhood ordeal that once threatened to overwhelm them. Danny continues to be haunted by the memories of how he tricked Howie and left him for dead in a cave when they were kids. It was a terrible error in judgment, one he is unable to forget.

As Danny tries to feel "connected to his connectedness," nothing can assuage the feeling that he is miserable. The sinister atmosphere of the castle begins to encompass him with its rock walls, ruined rooms, claustrophobic underground passageways, and a mysterious round swimming pool, its water black and thick with scum, stinking with something from deep inside the earth.

While the castle seems to conspire to drag Danny down, the sights, sounds, even the smells of the place seem to excite and thrill Howard. It's as though he just can't get enough of it. Howard, his wife, Ann, and their young son are absolutely thrilled with the delights and potential of their investment.

Danny is soon drawn to the Keep, a mysterious tower where an enigmatic woman called the Baroness, "an ancient hag who looks more dead than alive." She claims the castle and all the land around it in every direction is hers. She despises Americans, calling them mongrels, and resents the intrusion by Howard into her solace.

What exactly is the Keep? Howard isn't allowed near the tower because the Baroness has threatened him, but the town below the castle has served the Keep for hundreds of years. Is the Keep something more metaphysical, a path perhaps to Danny's own inner-keep, his tortured soul? Things get even more bizarre when the Baroness begins to call to Danny, but is she too just a part of a dream?

Author Jennifer Egan has created a maze-like novel. The narrative constantly shifts its point of view to a man called Ray incarcerated for murder in a maximum-security prison, taking a creative writing course and careful to make sure that a manuscript he has written stays in safekeeping.

Ray has got a crush on his teacher, Holly, an ex-meth addict who is struggling to keep it together. She doesn't want him to see that she is vulnerable and overwhelmed with pure sadness - a sadness mixed with guilt, responsibility and loss. But what is Ray and Holly's connection to Danny and the mysterious questionable activities in the Keep?

Part modern gothic novel, part suspense thriller, The Keep's reality steadily spins out of control as magination intermingles with tunnels and dungeons and torture chambers with skeletons.

Egan's characters are themselves certainly tortured, even fated to collide, their futures hopelessly intertwined. But it is to the author's talent as a writer that she can so thoroughly convince us of their fears in a world that is almost dreamlike in its intensity.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2006

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