Jennifer Egan

The Keep

At the beginning he'd thought of his style as being his essence, the perfect expression of who he was inside, but lately the styles had started to feel like disguises, distractions Danny could move around behind without being seen. 27

Compared with the medieval antiques of next door, the stuff in these abandoned rooms was actually modern-not modern like today, but in that ballpark. Danny saw a typewriter and a sewing machine, old ones without plugs, but still. It gave him a weird impression that the long-ago past was in perfect shape, but the closer you got to today the more things collapsed into this ruined state. 39

He waited, watching the phone, until his hope dried up. The loss hit Danny all over again, except this time without the release of yelling or kicking—just that feeling of wanting something so badly you can't believe the force of your wanting won't make it be there, won't make it come back. 77

The seconds pass. I know what's going on because it's the same thing that always happens: give me something nice, something I love or want or need, and I'll find a way to grind it into dust. 139

There was a time when all I did was cry, but since then almost nothing. I'm dry. 213

A Visit From the Goon Squad

And then I notice the music flooding out of every part of the apartment at once—the couch, the walls, even the floor—and I know Bennie's alone in Lou's studio, pouring music around us. A minute ago it was "Don't Let me Down." Then it was Blondie's "Heart of Glass." Now it's Iggy Pop's "The Passenger":

I am the passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backside
I see the stars come out of the sky

Listening, I think, You will never know how much I understand you. p. 55

Now he laughs, really laughs, and I understand that we're friends, Lou and I. Even if I hate him, which I do. I get out of my chair and come to the railing, where he is.

People will try to change you, Rhea, Lou goes. Don't let em.

But I want to change.

No, he goes, serious. You're beautiful. Stay like this.

But the freckles, I go, and my throat gets that ache.

The freckles are the best part, Lou says. Some guy is going to go apeshit for those freckles. He's going to kiss them one by one.

I start to cry, I don't even hide it.

Hey, Lou goes. He leans down so our faces are together, and stares straight into my eyes. He looks tired, like someone walked on his skin and left footprints. He goes, The world is full of shitheads, Rhea. Don't listen to them—listen to me.

And I know that Lou is one of those shitheads. But I listen. 56–57

They stand still, surrounded by the whispering bush. The sky is crammed with stars. Rolph closes his eyes and opens them again. He thinks, I'll remember this night for the rest of my life. And he's right. 63

Rolph gapes at him. His father is angry, a muscle jumping in his jaw, and without warning Rolph is angry too: assailed by a deep, sickening rage that stirs in him very occasionally—when he and Charlie come back from a riotous weekend around their father's pool, rock stars jamming on the roof, guacamole and big pots of chili, to find their mother alone in her bungalow, drinking peppermint tea. Rage at this man who casts everyone aside. 78-79

So this is it—what cost me all that time. A man who turned out to be old, a house that turned out to be empty. I can't help it, I start to cry. 87

Bennie's letter had quite an effect on me. Things had gotten—what's the word? Dry. Things had gotten sort of dry for me. I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summers, collecting litter in the park alongside the East River near the Williamsburg Bridge. I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all. 93-94

What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest, was the quiet of their interaction, the absence of drama or tears as they gazed at each other, touching gently. He sensed between them an understanding too deep to articulate: the unspeakable knowledge that everything is lost. 214

Knowing all this makes us one step closer to being real, but not completely. When does a fake Mohawk become a real Mohawk? Who decides? How do you know if it's happened? 46

Punk rockers rove in laughing, shoving packs. Traffic pushes along Broadway, people honking and waving from their cars like we're at one gigantic party. With my thousand eyes it looks different, like I'm a different person seeing it. After my freckles are gone, my whole life will be like this. 51

We don't say anything, we just lie there side by side in the dark. Finally I go, You should've told me.

Told you what? she goes, but I don't even know. Then she goes, There's too much, and I feel like something is ending, right at that minute. 54

She takes hold of his hands. As they move together, Rolph feels his self-consciousness miraculously fade, as if he is growing up right there on the dance floor, becoming a boy who dances with girls like his sister. Charlie feels it, too. In fact, this particular memory is one she'll return to again and again, for the rest of her life, long after Rolph has shot himself in the head in their father's house at twenty-eight: her brother as a boy, hair slicked flat, eyes sparkling, shyly learning to dance. But the woman who remembers won't be Charlie; after Rolph dies, she'll revert to her real name—Charlene—unlatching herself forever from the girl who danced with her brother in Africa. Charlene will cut her hair short and go to law school. When she gives birth to a son she'll want to name him Rolph, but her parents will still be too shattered. So she'll call him that privately, just in her mind, and years later, she'll stand with her mother among a crowd of cheering parents beside a field, watching him play, a dreamy look on his face as he glances at the sky. 82-83

Rolph pulls at his sister's shoulder. He wants her to remember, to feel it all again: the wind, the endless black ocean, the two of them peering into the dark as if awaiting a signal from their distant, grown-up lives. "Remember, Charlie?"

"Yeah," Charlie says, narrowing her eyes. "I do remember that." 60

Your throat tightens up and your eyes get wet as you watch their faces go from stony to sad, and it's all kind of moving and sweet except that you're not completely there—a part of you is a few feet away, or above, thinking, Good, they'll forgive you, they won't desert you, and the question is, which one is really "you," the one saying and doing whatever it is, or the one watching? 191

"You're happy," Alex said.

I'm always happy," Sasha said. "Sometimes I just forget." (6)

Opening her eyes, she saw the plumber's tool belt lying on the floor at her feet. It had a beautiful screwdriver in it, the orange translucent handle gleaming like a lollipop in its warn leather loop, the silvery shaft sculpted, sparkling. Sasha felt herself contract around the object in a single yawn of appetite; she needed to hold the screwdriver for a minute. She bent her knees and plucked it noiselessly from the belt. Not a bangle jangled; her bony hands were spastic at most things, but she was good at this—made for it, she often thought, in the first drifty moments after lifting something. And once the screwdriver was in her hand, she felt instant relief from the pain of having an old soft-backed man snuffling under her tub, and then something more than relief: a blessed indifference, as if the very idea of feeling pain over such a thing were baffling. (8)

More than once, Coz had tried to connect the plumber to Sasha's father, who had disappeared when she was six. She was careful not to indulge this line of thinking. "I don't remember him," she told Coz. "I have nothing to say." She did this for Coz's protection and her own—they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances. But in that direction lay only sorrow. (9)

In fact the whole apartment, which six years ago had seemed like a way station to some better place, had ended up solidifying around Sasha, gathering mass and weight, until she felt both mired in it and lucky to have it—as if she not only couldn't move on but didn't want to. (15)

She didn't want to explain to Coz the mix of feelings she'd had standing there with Alex: the pride she took in these objects, a tenderness that was only heightened by the same of their acquisition. She'd risked everything, and here was the result: the raw, warped core of her life. (15)

All her excitement had seeped away, leaving behind a terrible sadness, an emptiness that felt violent, as if she'd been gouged. (16)

Scotty's smiling now, grinning like I almost never see him grin, wolf teeth flashing, and I realize that, out of all of us, Scotty is the truly angry one. (52)

Jocelyn and I shriek and hug onto Bennie, which for me is like touching something electric, his actual body in my arms. I remember every hug I've given him—I learn one thing each time: how warm his skin is, how he has muscles like Scotty even though he never takes his shirt off. This time I find his heartbeat, which pushes my hand through his back. (48)