I did not realize "A Visit From the Goon Squad" is a commentary on who we were and where we're headed until the last few chapters. As a member of the...moreI did not realize "A Visit From the Goon Squad" is a commentary on who we were and where we're headed until the last few chapters. As a member of the generation which can remember life before Google, but only just barely (I believe I'm regarded as a member of Gen Y), I am wary of the power of Facebook, smartphones, and GPS, but powerless to their omnipresence. I usually shy away from (post)modern books set in the future, because I read their ubiquitous and invasive gadgets as a promise of what life will be not twenty years from now (and that scares me). But I did not realize that "Goon Squad" would end up in that world, starting as it did in what I assumed to be present day. The future world isn't even the focus of the book, but I felt it influenced the theme, which has something to do with time, regrets, and the indifference (or perhaps blindness) in which the world progresses as a whole, while people as individuals grow weary and nostalgic. I only finished the book a few minutes ago; my brain is still attempting to form conclusions, and I'm digressing from the actual reviewing, which I haven't even begun.
I liked "Goon Squad" and officially rate it a 3.5, but that's not an option on Goodreads. The book follows multiple characters (I disagree with its claims that there are two main protagonists) and employs multiple viewpoints (first, both thirds, and second), which I found impressively well done, for the most part. I had difficulty orientating myself to its style at first (the book jumps from one character to another each chapter, all characters being distantly and/or closely connected), attempting to figure out the story Egan was trying to tell. But you have to get used to the fact that she's not telling one story, and that you will learn deep, often depressing details concerning characters who may or may not be mentioned again.
Each chapter can (and from my understanding, filched from other reviews, do) stand alone as a short story, a detailed glimpse into certain characters. Initially I found this off-putting; if I liked a character I could not stay with them for more than twenty pages. Initially I felt the narration style was a cop-out, an entire novel of information dumps, where stories and characters are told and not shown, never given a chance to develop, but begun and ended in one chapter. But the book does have a sort of wholeness to it, through its connected characters and circular narrative. Egan sometimes focuses on characters whom I found unimportant, and did not remember clearly by the end, but I believe that adds to the books commentary on life and time (our lives are filled with people who lead elaborate lives of their own, and who drift in and out of our focus). And, I'm often disappointed by endings, but Egan's use of the circular narrative (one of my favorite writing styles) pleased me; oh, how oddly and closely we are all connected.
Since this seems to be an important topic to other reviewers, I'll mention that I actually enjoyed the entire chapter done in PowerPoint (a 12-year-old's "slide journal"). I thought it was an important example of how the world and people are changing, how information is received in bursts, how our attention spans have shortened (not that this character's journal was not revealing, detailed, and contemplative, but her journal is a series of slides - she's clearly a kid of computers).
Although the characters are often unlikeable and the reader knows too much about them, "Goon Squad" is well-written and well-thought out. A book that merits a second reading, which I believe would reveal information and details I didn't quite catch the first time. (less)