As I understand it Black Box was written and published sentence by sentence on Twitter before being posted on the website of the New Yorker. Consequently, no sentence is longer than Twitter’s 140 character maximum. In Egan’s hands this enforced concision renders every line taut and intensely particular.
The goal is to be a lovely, innocuous, evolving surprise.
This is the goal of the ‘black box’ herself, the seductive agent whose impersonal instruction in terrorist infiltration constitutes the story. The voice is entirely detached and mechanical, in the manner of a supposed national security training manual. The agent or ‘beauty’ must cleave to her ‘Designated Male’ using all sorts of feminine wiles, each of which is dehumanised as its effect and execution are anatomized.
Egan manages to maintain the impersonal tone whilst conveying the twists and turns of the beauty’s mission, the fears, hopes, pain, and danger. Of course, this is no use to the agency.
Your pounding heartbeat will not be recorded.
The narrative drive Egan attains in each sentence, often by allusion alone, is wonderful and is combined with unexpectedly poetic moments, all of which are deployed in the instrumental manner of the training manual. The beauty of nature is a useful tool, as is the ‘beauty’ herself, who must contemplate the stars in order to calm herself.
The universe will seem to hang beneath you in its milky glittering mystery.
‘Black Box’ is a brilliant piece of writing, each sentence luminous like the stars our ‘beauty’ uses to navigate. I thoroughly recommend it.