Joel's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Jan 13, 11

bookshelves: 2010, 52-in-2010, library-books, stories-no-wait-a-novel-no-wait, minus-half-a-star, vote-getters
Read from July 21 to 25, 2010

I was going to post a really cool review of this, post-dated from the year 202X, but I couldn't get Goodreads to display my PowerPoint presentation correctly*.

*This is a lie. I did not write a PowerPoint book review because I:
am lazy/am not that clever/don't have PowerPoint. Or is it all three*?


*It is all three.

I loved this book, which is funny because it's basically short stories, and I usually don't have the patience for short stories. But these did me the favor of interlocking nicely in a way that made me feel like I was reading a novel, and also of being published with a very pretty cover with foil stamping, printed on that textured, slightly rough paper that assures you that you are reading a classy, classy book that will probably be nominated for something.

"Time is a goon," we're told, and the older I get (and I'm not even old), the more I realize that this is really true, as years fly faster and faster and things that once sounded like a long way off are suddenly in the rear view mirror (like: it is 2010; in one year, 9/11 will have been 10 years ago). I used to think 70 seemed old. With my parents newly retired and pushing the seven-decade mark, though, anyone who dies before 80 seems like they died young. I take heart in the fact that, barring a car crash, cancer, or freak tripping-over-the-cat-related catastrophe, I'm still less than halfway done with my brief time on this planet. Is this morbid? Are you supposed to start pondering your mortality a year from 30, or is this some kind of commentary on The Times in Which We Live? Or am I just shifting my fears that I won't end up doing any of the neat things I want to do into the future, the fear that time is only going to keep getting faster, and pretty soon we'll be talking about where we were on that day 20 years ago when Everything Changed, or seemed like it would.

This isn't really about the book, but it is. Egan follows a bunch of characters who work in the music industry, ping-ponging from life to life, from the present, to the past, to the future. It makes total sense: time's a goon; it will creep up on you as quickly as turning a page. Nostalgia is a trap too: I don't miss the good old days for what they were, but for what lay ahead of me, the time I've already spent in-between then and now. This book encompasses all of that, allowing us to see it all: the way past regrets and mistakes shape our future choices, the way our lives will unfold and blossom or wither in ways we can't possibly expect, or maybe can exactly predict.

Oh, and it's also fabulously written in about a dozen different styles, from first- to second- to third-person and in newspaper articles and even in, yes, PowerPoint graphics. And it's about the music industry which is very cool but also big business and that's an interesting dichotomy, how do you commercialize and corporatize the spirit of punk rock, the primal scream of youth looking around and seeing nothing but waste, looking forward and seeing nothing but uncertainty?
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Reading Progress

07/22/2010 page 17
6.0%
07/24/2010 page 190
66.0% "'yes, 25 percent of my new book is a power point presentation. why? ... what?' - j. egan"
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 55) (55 new)


message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael I usually don't have the patience for short stories.

It almost seams like an oxymoron, but I know exactly what you mean. I'm the same way: by the time I start feeling immersed in the story, it's frickin' over.

Terrific review. Careful around that cat, alright?


Joel thanks for the kind words. what i liked about this one was that it didn't give me that impatient feeling; each chapter was expertly crafted, and everything holds together so well thematically you aren't left hanging when a new story starts. or at least, by the time you finish the book, you feel satisfied.

i felt pretty much the opposite about another heavily hyped "novel in stories" from recent months, The Imperfectionists. each story left me frustrated, there wasn't a clear through line (or a particularly resonant one, anyway), and my suspicion that i'm pretty much always going to object to this format was confirmed.

of course, it's easy to see why the books are marketed as novels, because otherwise a great many people who agree with us would never pick them up.


message 3: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine it's weird when your parents start feeling old. my mom has been complaining about turning 50 soon (not that soon in reality).

I didn't know this was short stories.


Joel ohmigish, 50 not that soon? i'm only five or six years older than you and my parents are 70 not that soon.

my future children are doomed to have older parents too, but i'm shooting for not that old. and by "shooting" i mean i assume it will happen eventually but i do not have to think about that right now.


message 5: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine well I don't know how old you are but my family is really young. I think my dad turned fifty this year, my mom is 48 and my grandmother is 72, I think my great grandmother is like 94 but I'm not sure. No one in my family finished college at a reasonable age but me. I was self mocking to my mother the other day because according to her family I should be on my second kid already.

if you have kids you have kids. If you don't well your life is a hell of a lot easier not really something to complain about. I don't get the people who are setting deadlines for babies. it just seems like a bad idea.


message 6: by Joel (last edited Sep 17, 2010 06:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel many of my friends have parents who were in the same age ranges as yours (or younger). whereas my mom was 38 when i was born (i'm 29). i was always a little jealous of people with very young families for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that they had cousins who were approximately their own ages instead of 15+ years older.

hence the vague preference to have children a little sooner (aside from the host of other reasons that start seeming more significant the older you get and you start doing calculations like how long you have to wait for fertility treatments should there be a problem, which is two years, and if you want more than one kid... and also once you hit about 28 and everyone you know, literally 70 percent of your friends, have babies as their facebook profile pictures).

maybe you have to grow up with parents who are closer in age to your friends' grandparents, or maybe it only matters to me.


message 7: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine yeah that's it I've got pretty much the opposite. all my friends have old parents and most of my cousins are significantly younger than me. and that friends babies thing is location based. Where I grew up it seems like 90% have babies, in new york most of my female friends are getting engaged and they tend to be older.

I do like that my mom is young though because now when my life sucks and I can't pay the rent I actually remember my mom being like that, well she was like that last week but that's another story. plus since I'm terrifed of being old I appreciate that she isn't old enough to remind me yet.


message 8: by Reese (new)

Reese If there weren't at least a thousand books (and the number keeps growing) that I want to have read before I'll consider picking up A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, I would read this "novel" just to improve my understanding of what makes a collection of related stories a "novel" rather than a "cycle of stories."

The five-star rating caught my attention. But it didn't keep me from concentrating on your interesting review.


Joel well it's still a cycle of short stories. i just meant it read like a novel in that it kept my attention better than usual.


message 10: by Reese (new)

Reese You're smart and witty; you write wonderful reviews, and I'm glad that we're GR friends. Sooooo I'm going to stifle my thoughts about message #9.


message 11: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel i have never been shy about saying that i'm generally not a huge fan of short stories. it doesn't mean i think they are bad, they just don't do it for me.

it's like this: starting a new book is hard. it always takes me 20 pages or so to get rolling. reading a short story collection is like reading the first 20 pages of a novel 10 times in a row.

i'm not faulting the format. it's just me as a reader.


message 12: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine it's a preference those are allowed. II know because I happen to prefer short stories in most cases. but that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with novels. you have nothing to justify.


message 13: by Reese (new)

Reese I didn't expect Joel to justify his preference. My thoughts about message #9 pertain to a different thread (about WINESBURG, OHIO). In the exchange in that thread concerning what constitutes a novel and what constitutes "a cycle of stories," Joel's comments about WINESBURG led me to believe that his distinction between the two "labels" was based on MORE than personal preference. I was bothered by inconsistencies/contradictions, not Joel's personal preferences. Whether or not someone likes novels more than short stories or vice versa makes no difference to me.


message 14: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine oh well in that case to paraphrase christopher hitchens:

"I changed my mind. But I was right then and I'm right now. I simply don't believe the same thing."


message 15: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine "I believe I said earlier that I held a different view at the time and have since changed it. My articles and statements against the war and my reports from Iraq and its neighbors at the time are all available in a book published by Verso. It’s called—this one is called For the Sake of Argument, and I haven’t repudiated them. It’s, though, I no longer hold to them. I was un-persuaded in the following manner..."

it's prettier when he says it.


message 16: by Reese (new)

Reese Never mind. I don't think that we're on the same page. If we are, I don't know what "page" it is.


message 17: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel i don't see any inconsistencies. both a visit from the goon squad and w,o are story cycles. i just liked one better than the other. remember, i gave w,o 4 stars. that means "really liked it." you might note that i have either not reviewed any traditional story collections, or i have given them 2 stars or lower. this is because i did NOT enjoy them. by interconnecting even slightly (but not as much as AVFTGS) w,o held my attention better than short stories.

hence, i tend to enjoy story cycles more than straight short stories. i still think the two are different animals.


message 18: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine you might totally hate it joel but there is a collection of flashfiction by amelia gray that has recurring characters that is really interesting as a concept. Not the best book in all honesty. it's called am/pm


message 19: by Joel (last edited Sep 19, 2010 09:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel thanks for the recommendation, jasmine. it does sound interesting. it somewhat reminds me of 253: A Novel, which is 253 stories of 253 words examining 253 characters riding on a train. i didn't like it very much as a story but it was an interesting concept. i also take issue with the subtitle (i'll decide what's a novel tyvm!).

(ps i don't think reese got your joke re: hitchens but i thought it was a good reference. if i changed my tune about short stories, i was still right both times...)


message 20: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine ah cool. Severance by butler is also a really cool idea it is what famous people thought after they got their heads chopped off but before they actually died. I think he has one about sex too, but I'd have to look it up.

hitchens is one of my favorite people ever, basically because he says stuff like that.


message 21: by Reese (new)

Reese Joel, I did understand the point that Jasmine made -- I just failed to realize that it was funny. I discussed WINESBURG (at some length) -- despite my initial reluctance to do so -- because I thought we were seriously exploring the difference between a novel and a collection of short stories and what makes WINESBURG (as I see it) a novel or (as you see it or saw it) "a cycle of stories." If I had anticipated that we would arrive at a celebration of whim and "doublethink," I would not have bothered to present an argument to support my position.

. . . . I got us involved in a war in Iraq because it has "weapons of mass destruction." It doesn't? Oh -- well, I was still right to get us involved in a war in Iraq because the world will never be safe as long as Saddam controls Iraq. We got rid of him? Oh -- well, I'm right that we need to continue the war because, from the get-go, the aim of this war was to bring democracy to the people of Iraq. They had elections? Oh -- well, I'm still right that we need to stay in Iraq because our mission was always nation-building. You remember that I said that I opposed nation-building when I ran for office? Oh -- well, I was right when I said that I opposed nation-building, and now I'm right when I say that we need to fight to build the country that we "unbuilt." I hope that everyone is laughing because I've always wanted to be funny -- and right -- and right that I'm funny.


message 22: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel hmmm. well:

1) i was seriously discussing the difference between the two, and i don't see what in this thread does anything to take away from that conversation.

2) i don't actually think i was doing any "doublespeak," or celebrating it either. i don't really think the substance of jasmine's quote was important; she was just making a joke about your comment about perceived inconsistencies between two of my reviews. it was a very small joke that slightly amused me, particularly because i didn't think i was actually changing my stance at all.

3) i have no response to your second paragraph, except maybe to say look, i really enjoy when you comment on my reviews and i don't know if it's because stuff comes across incorrectly in print or what, but i'm not meaning to come across flippant or anything if i make a half-humorous response such as "maybe i changed my mind." pretty much everything i say is laced with irony but there's no special font to make that more obvious.

so i hope you'll continue to post comments. particularly since hardly anyone else does and my reviews are lonely.

see, that was a joke.


message 23: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine just so we can all stop fighting, my post was both serious and a joke. I have no idea what happened on the wo review and I don't care cause I don't think there is anything wrong if joel did change his mind. That is the serious part. The joke was well almost the same thing, with a little bit of internet and a bit of when he actually said that. so that last part probably only I get.


message 24: by Joel (last edited Sep 20, 2010 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel [INTERNET IRONY ON] oh so first you come into my review comments and start a fight, then you come back and try to act like the big-hearted peacemaker. i see how it is. jasmine, you are no longer welcome here! [INTERNET IRONY DISABLED]


message 25: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine heh. I don't care enough to start fights.

I'm buddhist... buddhist I tell you. I'm all disconnected and shit.


message 26: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel really? i love starting fights. but only if someone is wrong.




message 27: by Reese (new)

Reese Joel,

I do appreciate your detailed response to my message.

One of the reasons why your reviews hold my interest is your use of irony; so please don't think that I don't see it, smell it, and "eat it up."

When you wrote, "[W]ell, it's a cycle of stories. I just meant it read like a novel in that it kept my attention better than usual"(message #9), you sounded as if you were discarding explanations in the other thread in favor of the following: "A novel is whatever I experience as a novel." I would call that a significant shift. I started "hearing" the voices of countless politicians who step from one position to another to serve their personal agendas.

Your response to my message #10 led Jasmine to throw in an irrelevant defense of your right to have preferences, a right that I was not trying to deny you. Then when you responded to Jasmine's message, you seemed to be suggesting that I was slightly deficient in humor and/or intelligence because I did not react warmly to the "whatever-I-say-I'm-right" attitude. I don't believe that I would have been offended by a mocking comment that you had addressed to me, but your "ps" ABOUT ME was a message to Jasmine. I felt that you had crossed the line between cute irony and insult. In the Bush-Iraq paragraph, I was simply "striking back."

Perhaps this exchange will improve our understanding of each other's tendencies.


message 28: by Joel (last edited Sep 20, 2010 09:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel well, again, it's a matter of how things are read.

because while i understood your reaction to her post (i.e. that you weren't denying my right to have preferences), i got what she was trying to say and also the fact that she actually didn't really know what she was referring to (as she says in her follow-up comment) and was just being funny, and also FWIW, your response to her comment did come off as ever-so-slightly humorless (which again probably has something to do with how i read it). that's all.

i actually did consider it read a bit odd to reference your name in my response to someone else's comment but i did it anyway. i still think it's a little weird (hi jasmine! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT YOU!). i plan never to do it again.


(incidentally, i don't think you can really equate political positions with something as subjective as varying responses to a book in any case, since my opinion will vary based on a myriad of things. for instances, i never really developed a thesis about short stories and why i tend not to like them before we started talking about winesburg, which obviously i read after this book. perhaps i would have phrased this review a bit differently if i had, but i still don't find them inconsistent. goon squad read MORE LIKE a novel because the stories are more closely connected, therefore i liked it more than winesburg, which was only a little connected, at least on a plot/character level.)


message 29: by Reese (new)

Reese As must be obvious, I wrote the previous message before I saw messages 23-26. I may still play in your sandbox since the popularity of throwing sand seems to be sinking.


message 30: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I get liking starting fights. I just don't care enough to follow through on any fight I start to I don't bother. I mock and walk away. It's like turning the other cheek but you are laughing.

you can talk about me all you want. It makes me feel special.


message 31: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I also have to say I see no reason to bother fully understanding anything on the internet. Perhaps that is why I always seem like I'm being mean.


message 32: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel i kind of feel the same way. i am always saying mean things on facebook and i assume all my friends get the joke. but every once in a while one of their friends will call me out for being a jerk. and i'm like, did you bother to take that obvious joke seriously? or do you really think i, to cite a recent example, advocate the wholesale slaughter of infants? didn't jonathan swift already use that joke anyway?


message 33: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine facebook is super weird these days because people's parents are there and they get all weird about that.

For example, A friend of mine put a message on my wall about how if she didn't make it to my birthday party she would have to cover me in frosting and lick it off. Another friend was freaked and was like "What if your mother sees that". I think my mother would probably laugh. But hell I've only known her for 24 years.


message 34: by Reese (last edited Sep 20, 2010 09:56AM) (new)

Reese No brainer -- allow me this one -- words are far less important than actions. BUT. The conjunction gets a sentence to itself. Words have great power. (And the Internet has expanded their power.) We don't experience the actions of cyberspace-only "friends"; their words (and pictures) are all that we have. Besides, I've cared about word choice for too long to stop caring. (That doesn't mean that I don't want to be entertained by words; if I didn't have a sense of humor, I wouldn't have praised Joel's reviews.)

I don't "do" FACEBOOK -- for many reasons, the most important one being that my thirty-year-old daughter and twenty-six-year-old son prefer that I not.


message 35: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel you can still do it. just don't expect them to be friends with you.

actually, my dad is my friend but he only gets about 10 percent of the content i post thanks to the ability to filter what people can see.


message 36: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine my mom my grandmother and most of my cousins are friends with me on facebook. I have yet to figure out how to work the filter and I apparently don't have one in my head so they know me much better than they ever use to.


message 37: by Joel (last edited Sep 20, 2010 10:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel it's kind of complicated. you have to make a special list and then can determine the settings for that list. i called mine 'moms' because i set it up when my girlfriend's mom friended me. it now includes everyone who is either a parent, a humorless relative, or someone with the power to hire or fire me. basically all they can see is that i indeed exist.


message 38: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I have a list but I just use it so my mom can't tell when I'm online cause I have no desire to IM my mom.


message 39: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel your mom can IM? is this what it's like to have parents under 70?


message 40: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine she can't open email attachments, so it's a fluke.

My brother taught her how. he also got her playing the games. She can't use yahoo or aim.


message 41: by Reese (new)

Reese My "kids" and I are aware of the ways of restricting access to information that they want only certain people to have, and they know that I would not use tech geeks, etc. to help me invade their privacy. It is STILL their wish that I not use FACEBOOK, and it's a wish that I have no trouble granting. If only all of their wishes were so easy to fulfill! Email has taken care of my need to communicate with friends, relatives, colleagues, et al. And GR gives me opportunities to discuss books with strangers. Would I feel "cool" if I used FACEBOOK? At 58, I don't have the urge to feel "cool." Would I feel "hot" if I used FACEBOOK? I'm happily married to a man who thinks I'm "hot" even though I'm not. I can't think of any compelling reasons to ignore my children's request.


message 42: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine what does facebook have to do with hotness?


message 43: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel yes, facebook's "hotness" factor is far below that of myspace (haha remember myspace?). i haven't received any fake friend requests from porn sites via facebook anyway.

i use facebook because it amuses me. if it wouldn't amuse you, then there is certainly no reason to do it.

certainly if you did feel "cool" or "hot" simply for using facebook, i would feel sad for you, because you would be living in a world of self-delusion.


message 44: by Reese (new)

Reese In a word -- pictures.


message 45: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel i generally try to pick the most ridiculous profile picture i can find.

i used to find it greatly amusing back in the myspace days when i would get a spam from a fake profile saying they thought my picture was "hot," when in fact the picture was of me as a child, wearing a gas mask i got from the army-navy surplus.


message 46: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine hehe. I had a picture for a long time of me walking next to the reflecting pool in a trenchcoat and my male friends told me to change it because it wasn't "hot" and I looked like an oxford professor. I always wonder if people have met me when they say such things, because I don't care if I'm hot and I think oxford professors are awesome!


message 47: by Reese (new)

Reese Joel, I'm glad that I haven't given you a reason to think that I'm delusional. Whew! While I'm no FACEBOOK or MySpace maven, my son's girlfriend's
"mini-tutorial" enabled me to generalize (in an approximate way) about the differences between FB and MS users. I'm pretty sure that I can handle life without belonging to either community.


message 48: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine i use both. but I can only manage one site at a time, currently that is goodreads. but I met my ex on a philosophy chat room on myspace.


message 49: by Joel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joel myspace has chat rooms? i haven't logged in since 2008, and no one i know still uses it. SNL joked that it was "the internet's abandoned amusement park," which is one of three times SNL was funny this season.


message 50: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine yes. It actually has literal chat rooms, but when I say that I mean forum cause I lie.


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