Stephen M's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Jul 05, 11

bookshelves: mentions-mitchell
Read on July 05, 2011

I don't think I've ever been this torn on a book. I mean three stars? four? five? I give away so many five stars anyway.... Ah, goodreads star-rating system, you can never fully capture my experience with a book.
So, what did I think of this book? Absolutely beautiful at times. Was it consistent? No. Was it sad? Yes. Was it rewarding? Yes. Did the post-modern gimmick work in this book? I'm not sure.

And that is where most of my grippes come with this one. Because I couldn't help but feel that Egan's strongest points in this novel was her accumulative effect of story and character. By that I mean, as each of the short stories began to pick up they all had a snow-balling effect. Almost every story had me huffing and moaning at the beginning, but by the end came upon some gorgeous, emotional climax. By the end of all of the stories (except for two of them, which I thought were trash) I was hooked into it the story. I wanted more!!!!! And that's what got me nearly angry a couple of times. She cuts you off as soon as you are fully hooked and engaged. I honestly wanted her to stick with a couple of the characters and stories. Why so cut up? Her style reminded me much of Franzen. Sad and realistic, but (in the case of Franzen) developed over long periods of time and narrative. To me, I kept wondering why Egan was cutting away from her story as soon as it got very interesting. Although, by the end I did appreciate somewhat the multiple narratives, it didn't give me the satisfaction of other multi-story line novels. Of course I thought of Cloud Atlas . And although I could see these problems I have with her novel being applied to Cloud Atlas as well, Mitchell seems to earn it more. That sounds very vague but what I mean is that with Mitchell, his sections are so well written and convincing, I am able to go along with his fracturing much more.

I'm not saying that Egan is a bad writer, she is fantastic. But her writing is much more representative. It doesn't have near the amount of vocal flourishing that Mitchell uses. So Egan's writing comes across as much more realistic in tone, so when we are expected to go along with these drastic jumps of time and perspective, it feels so much less natural than it already is.
The other thing that struck me, was how fatalistic the story was at times. Although a hopeful ending does finish off the book, there are parts you read about characters where you already know how it will turn out for them. It turns their struggle into less of a natural and meaningful conflict, and more of a character fulfilling what has been told to us already.
So for those reasons (jumping away at crucial emotional moments, characters fulfilling already laid-out plans and her story jumping unnaturally from story to story), I felt like I was being toyed with. (I know David Mitchell does that too! but again, his writing is so convincing and complex, that I'm willing to go along for the ride.)

But it would be very unfair of me to write Egan off completely. Like I've said, there are some moments that really touched me. And heck, this book got me to stay up until freaking five in the morning as I'm writing this review! I have work in four hours! And although her last chapter breaks tone a bit, it is a great way to end it. We sometimes need a happy ending in a bleak world. The review would be severely amiss if I didn't mention the utter awesomeness and loveliness of the slide-show chapter.

Also note that I wrote this in a long winded ramble, delirious at five in the morning. There's no way I'm reading through and proofing until tomorrow. Even then, no promises.

Read this book it's worth it!
That's all. Bed time.

Prose style: 2
Plot: 3
Depth of characters: 4
Overall sense of aesthetic: 2
Originality: 4
Entertaining: 4
Emotional Reaction: 5
Intellectual Stimulation: 2
Social Relevance: 4
Writerly Inspiration: 2

Average = 3.2
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Quotes Stephen M Liked

Jennifer Egan
“Like all failed experiments, that one taught me something I didn’t expect: one key ingredient of so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and special, that those included in it are privileged and those excluded from it are missing out.”
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Reading Progress

07/05/2011 page 137
40.0% "I keep re-reading pages 135 and 136, they're so beautiful and sad. Wow, this book is shifting from a "I thought it was pretty good three stars" to a "oh ma gosh I'm gonna cry five stars"."
07/05/2011 page 209
61.0% "ahhhhhhh!!!! Mrs. Egan, why are you so blithely toying with my heart?!?!?!"

Comments (showing 1-11)

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message 11: by Alex (new)

Alex >Ah, goodreads star-rating system, you can never fully
>capture my experience with a book.

There is a discussion going on that subject at

Stephen M I like a lot of the ideas on that discussion. It'd be interesting if Goodreads ever made changes to the rating system.

K.D. Absolutely I share your sentiments regarding this book. Nice review! :)

Stephen M Thanks! I really like your comment of "write to express not to impress". I think it very much applies to this book. I mean why the second person? why the DFW style footnotes? They were fun, sure, but what did it do for her story?

Nelly Have you read her other books? I actually felt that the Invisible Circus and The Keep were stronger books although I did like the shifts of POV in Goon Squad. What else should I read by Mitchell? I have to admit I was a bit perplexed by Cloud Atlas. There was one chapter I couldn't even finish and skimmed so I could get to the end...

Stephen M I haven't read her others. But I'm definitely interested in reading them. And with Mitchell, it depends. I mean I love all his books, I think he is just a wonderful writer. But Black Swan Green is a lot of fun. It's his easiest to read and the most realistic. It's a coming of age adolescent book, so I don't know how you feel about that. But it is really well done. I just finished number9dream. That is a whirlwind of a book. There are some very difficult sections, but well worth the read, especially if you like Haruki Murakami, it's something of a love letter to him.

Nelly Thanks Stephen. I have no objection to adolescent books, coming of age or otherwise, so I will start with that and then move on to number9dream :-)

Stephen M Sweet! You'll have to let me know what you think of them.

Nelly Have to finish A Games of Thrones first, then on to Mitchell...

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Agadada-Davida I set myself the task of reading her books chronologically, so it might be a while before I get to this one. I made sure I got a copy with the guitar on the front though.

Chad Initial reaction: four. Three hours later: five. Karen's review says everything I wanted to say in mine but didn't. GUTPUNCH.

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