Black Box is an e-book only release from Jennifer Egan, the author of A Visit from the goon squad. It tells the story of an unnamed female (possibly one of the characters from Goon Squad), a civilian, forced to become a spy. Throughout the story we are given little to no information on her mission.
I thoroughly enjoyed Egan’s A visit from the goon squad, a rich blend of different characters and writing styles. And though many chastised it as a short story collection masquerading as a novel I found the book a wonderful, fresh piece of writing and consumed it over the course of two or three days.
Black Box is her follow-up, not a novel this time but a single stand alone short story available on E-readers exclusively.
The book garnered attention due to its format. Looking at your kindle screen the book appears as a collection of sentences, each one to it’s own paragraph. In actual fact the book is a succession of Tweets, published on the New Yorker’s twitter feed over the course of nine days earlier this year.
It would be easy to write this Twitter-novel off as a publicity stunt but Egan has defended it, saying that the tradition of using real world mediums in writing is as old aswriting itself. This is indeed true, Dracula takes the form of Diary entries, characters learning of other characters movements by reading each others journals. We need to talk about Kevin is written as a series of letters. Salmon fishing in the Yemen, a collection of leaked government documents, emails and magazine interviews. The problem with slotting Twitter into this tradition however is that twitter heavily dictates the story, allowing only 140 characters at a time.
Despite these constraints though, Egan manages to weave a very well considered story. I found myself reading the book slowly, savouring every sentence as there is so little text to devour. Some of these tweets ring with true beauty though I must admit it does occasionally feel like you’re reading a teenagers pretentious twitter feed.. After a while however I stopped thinking of the story surrounding the story and was able to enjoy the book, not as an exercise in a new medium but as a really great story on it’s own merits. Readers who like a dense piece of writing will be left wanting here, little information is given away, we never learn the characters name, never really discern her location or ever fully understand what the mission she has been tasked with actually is. Instead we are given snapshots of the story, brief windows or dialogue or introspection.
I massively enjoyed this story and look forward to reading Egan’s other works. Overall, though it’s obviously an experiment, Spartan and you’ll finish it in one sitting, I heartily recommend you seek this one out.