A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Okay, I know no one really comes to this site for the book reviews. First of all, this is only the third one (fuck, I need to read more). Second and more pertinent, I’m not as eloquent expressing my thoughts on literature. I can’t really explain why that is, just like I can’t really explain what it is I found so moving and excellent about this book. It’s a kind of indefinable quality I get from books sometimes. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is another example. I couldn’t point to anything in particular as to why that is a great novel (you know, besides everyone saying so) but I knew after reading it that it was. It was a kind of intangible feeling I got, that I don’t always get from books even when I enjoy them (and didn’t get from Franzen’s more recent Freedom).

There has been some talk about whether A Visit from the Goon Squad qualifies as a novel or a short story collection. They are separate stories, but they are all interconnected (kind of like The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis… except way better… no offense, Bret). The characters of any given chapter will be connected to the characters of other chapters but, as to who or what the central focus of the novel is, it is never entirely clear. There’s Bennie Salazar, a music executive and apparent lynchpin of this literary universe; Sasha, his kleptomaniacal assistant; Rhea, Jocelyn, and Scotty, all high school classmates of Bennie’s; Lou, the main a teenage Jocelyn had an affair with; Rolfe, Lou’s son; Stephanie, Bennie’s ex-wife; Dolly, Stephanie’s ex-boss; Jules, Stephanie’s brother; Rob, Sasha’s college friend; Ted, Sasha’s uncle; Ally, Sasha’s eventual daughter (in the future!); and Alex, a one-time date of Sasha’s and eventually a collaborator with Bennie.

The character voices are varied, even if all do contain a note of despair. Chapters vary from first to third to even one use of second person narrative. An extended chapter, Great Rock and Roll Pauses, is done in the style of a Power Point/blog slideshow by Sasha’s daughter at some unspecified time in the future (but water and energy is rationed and golf courses have become deserts). My only problem with the book is the final chapter, Pure Language (also set in the future), is a bit technophobic in its depiction of a world in which “handsets” (the apparent descendent of smartphones/MP3 players) have bred a generation that’s redefined social interaction in a rather cold fashion. I suppose that it does fit well with the theme of titular “good squad” representing time, but it comes off a bit cantankerous (“get off my lawn!”). Plus it’s right at the end so it’s one of the parts that lingers in the mind… However, I really can’t let that one problem taint the whole book for me. I was pleasantly surprised that a story I read by Egan in a collection a few years back, Selling the General, popped up as a chapter here. I guess a few chapters had been previously published. Anyway, A Visit from the Goon Squad is the first great piece of literature I have read in a while (as I hinted at earlier, I have been way behind on my reading). Check it out.

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