Picks and Pans Review: The Keep

updated 08/21/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/2006 01:00AM

By Jennifer Egan
REVIEWED BY FRANCINE PROSE
CRITIC'S CHOICE
NOVEL

Nothing is even remotely as it first appears in Egan's dazzling The Keep, and you have to pay close attention to keep up with the switchback plot. The book begins with a young man named Danny fleeing some sort of trouble involved with a restaurant job and finding refuge in the abandoned castle that his cousin Howie plans to develop into a hotel. Just when we're sorting out Danny and Howie's troubled past, the action switches to a prison classroom where serious offenders are taking a writing class. Even as you begin to sense how the narratives are related, the stories become more compelling and bizarre, and the connections between them more suggestive and seductive. When the novel turns gothic—the witch in the tower, the subterranean caves—it may seem that Frankenstein has been remade by a contemporary master as a hymn to the powers of the imagination. Egan gets everything right—from the convolutions of the strung-out male mind to the self-deceptions of a drug addict—and her skill will keep you marveling at the pages that you can't help turning.

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