Dominic's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Jun 05, 11

bookshelves: modern-literature, pulitzer-prize, short-stories
Read from June 03 to 05, 2011

Jennifer Egan has created a joyfully original literary confection that, like a near-perfect album of music, leaves me filled with awe. It evades categorization in the best possible way--it is novel, it is short story collection, it is multigenre experiment, it is a sort of mock concept LP (even split into a Side A and Side B). But above all it is just a damn good story and damn good characters with damn good writing. A Visit from the Good Squad ends up saying so many things about the nature of time, the power of music, and the meaning of relationship.

The singular image that comes to mind when I think about Egan's narrative approach is that of a snow globe. Although the book documents the lives of over a dozen characters (new ones added as each chapter begins), it restricts most of them to a pretty tight space. Readers are given a rare, intensely (almost voyeuristic) glimpse into this one moment in time, and then, BAM!, Egan unspools the characters entire lives before our eyes. And in the turn of sentence, a character's entire life might unwind, and it is a strategy that reminds me endlessly of Virginia Woolf, who was one of the best writers to ever capture on paper the elusive nature of time (best done in her masterwork To the Lighthouse). As Egan turns the snow globe, introducing us to this, in one sense, frozen and, in other, totally free-flowing spiderweb of connections we have between people, our wonder increases. It's definitely an original approach; but stick with it. Language, like music, both captures the moment but is also timeless.

One way to view Good Squad is as a short story collection (and this might help wary readers). Each chapter/song/story is almost a freestanding narrative, but Egan is forever looking far ahead. Like listening to a concept album, we are asked to look far and wide, too, forever trusting the author and her vision; she will not let us down. Egan's characters reminded me of the characters of James Joyce's Dubliners, another masterwork of language and music and vision.

Egan's characters are terribly--painfully--real. The Chicago Tribune calls them "gloriously, infuriatingly human," and I think that perfectly captures them. It's hard to pick a favorite one, particularly as we, unexpecting, watch them grow and recede as that Ultimate Goon (Time) has its way with them.

Just as hard is to pick a favorite chapter. Not only does each narrative have its own personality, but it also has its own style--one uses the second person point-of-view; one is written as a mock Rolling Stone exposé; the penultimate chapter is hands down the best short story even written in PowerPoint (no joke, it is wonderful). Also like a good LP, my favorite "song" will inevitably change as I continue to think about (and one day reread) this fantastic book.
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Quotes Dominic Liked

Jennifer Egan
“You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha's sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I'm sorry and I will never leave you, I'll be curled around your heart for the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad


Reading Progress

06/04/2011 page 111
33.0% "It's kinda like holding up a snow globe and looking up close at one moment in these characters' lives...and then, bam, they just unravel to their end. Fascinating approach."

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