Black Box


By Jennifer Egan

cover image of Black Box

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'Close your eyes and slowly count backward from ten.' America, the near future. A young spy on a mission logs her observations. The result is an intense thriller, and a minute dissection of the experience of a woman whose beauty is also her camouflage, for whom control relies on submission: a woman whose success - whose life - depends on being seen and not seen. Originally published online via Twitter by @NYerFiction, Jennifer Egan's first new fiction since the phenomenal success of A Visit From the Goon Squad is a taut, compulsive work of unrelenting genius. 'My working title for this story was "Lessons Learned" and my hope was to tell a story whose shape would emerge from the lessons the narrator derived from each step in the action, rather than from straightforward narration of the action itself. The atomised structure made this piece seem like a possible candidate for serialization on Twitter - something I'd long been interested in trying. Writing fiction for Twitter is not a new idea, of course, but it's a rich one - because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in 140 characters. 'Another impulse behind 'Black Box' was to take a character from a naturalistic story and travel with her into a different genre. Jon Scieszka first put this idea into my head with his spectacular meta-fictional picture book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!, in which the three pigs move through books drawn in radically different styles, transforming visually into the style of each world they enter. I wondered whether I might do something analogous with a character from my novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad: create a cartoon version of that person, for example - or, in this case, a spy thriller version. I wrote the story by hand in a Japanese notebook that had eight rectangles on each page, and it took me a year to control and calibrate that material into what is now "Black Box".'
Black Box