Shoma Patnaik's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Aug 20, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 2011, music, science-fiction, not-owned, travel, italy, america, africa
Read from July 27 to 28, 2011

I wouldn't have read this book if it weren't for the constant Goodreads Book Club ads. Once I did, though, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it did have some of those elements that interest me after all. I love reading about time: it's the only true constant in human lives. So, I was looking forward to see how Jennifer Egan expands on the basic theme of this book: "Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?".

I liked the structure of the novel, the loosely interconnected stories. It was interesting to discover minor characters tucked away as protagonists in later pages, to see their journeys in the future and past. Egan's writing is sometimes quiet and beautiful: "... What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest", sometimes quick and witty. I am somewhat undecided about the infamous PowerPoint chapter. I like the concept and the title, Famous Rock and Roll Pauses reminded me of something Debussy once said that I love, about music being the silence between the sounds. Still, the writing was often self-conscious and pretentious (a grown woman, not a 12 year old is more likely to use the words "primordially cute"?) and this is one of the reasons that the book couldn't enchant me despite it's subject.

This book seemed like a more sophisticated version of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife in a lot of ways. Both are about time and both have an interesting approach ruined by unlikable characters and pretentious writing (although there's less name-dropping in Egan's book). Sasha is just not believable: when teenage girls run away to become groupies, more often than not, they are more likely to end up without a kidney somewhere than travel around Europe and Asia. On a side note, I don't understand the recent trend I've noted in a number of books, of quirky-but-troubled-pale-redhead heroines. These writers (it may be a coincidence but they're almost always female) seem to use physical appearance as a shortcut to character development, instead of you know, actually spending time giving a character depth and personality. Frankly, the offbeat redhead is as tired a cliché as the dumb blonde and the sensible brunette. As for the other characters, Jules is interesting until you have to plough through the tiresome rant that is his escapade with Kitty Jackson. Lou is never anything more than an old lech. To be fair to Egan, she does have some sympathetic characters, like Scotty, La Doll or even Bosco.

The tone is often depressing, as looking back on the passage of time is and Egan reminds the reader constantly of what time can do: "... such universal, defining symbols made meaningless by nothing more than time". However, there is also redemption. Egan doesn't forget the circular nature of time. Time taketh away, and time giveth.

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