Books Made of Paper

Jennifer Egan: ‘The Invisible Circus'

Jennifer Egan’s The Invisible Circus is mesmerizing. I plunged in and only came up for air when I reached my subway stop each day for a week. That said, this happens to be a time when I grossly relate to the subject matter, perhaps making my reading experience a tad more intense.

Without giving too much away, the protagonist, 18-year-old Phoebe, is searching for the truth about her sister’s suicide which occurred eight years earlier. Not knowing this when I picked up the book, I was and still am, sorting out my own feelings about a recent friend’s suicide. Both girls jumped. Phoebe, having not been there at the time of her sister’s death, nor spoken to anyone who was there, naturally has questions about what happened and why. I understood that need that propelled her, and me, through the story. The need to understand, and for what happened to be real and true.

But it’s impossible to understand the situation of someone who takes their life, whether it’s your older sister, or a friend who is not especially close and who you don’t fully understand to begin with. You’re left with questions, and zero resolution, and the suddenness of it makes you wonder if it happened at all.

Following Phoebe through her travels, which take place in the ’70s, was like going down the rabbit hole. And indeed, there was even an acid trip–beautifully, gruesomely and awesomely written.

While I wasn’t alive in the ’70s, I have lived in San Francisco, where Phoebe is from, and it was fun to see scenes of the city from her eyes during that time. She feels like she missed something big that her sister’s generation experienced in the ’60s. But she also intentionally skips out on adolescence, choosing instead to spend evenings cooking dinner and watching movies with her mother. When she starts the journey to her sister’s scene of the crime, she’s taking the first steps toward growing up and letting the world in.

I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age story, and the struggles of being a kid. It’s such an emotional time, and often, a cliché experience. So when someone writes about it in a way that’s both relatable and precise, I get on board. Maybe I’m not ready to leave those days behind me.



For the record, I also read Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, which I enjoyed–but I do pick favorites, and this is it. Also of note, this book was made into a movie with Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster in 1999. I was thinking while I was reading how great this book would be as a movie. But I wonder if it translates too dramatically into film. Has anyone seen it?

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