Mike Robinson's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Feb 14, 2012

it was ok
Read in October, 2011

Rarely does a book fall so far from its first impression. Immersed in the psychological tangles of Sasha and her kleptomania, I subsequently grew disappointed, restless, bored, then outright annoyed as the book went on its meandering way through a slew of irritatingly trivial, vapid characters who, while offering glimmers of real souls, are never allowed to really speak their piece before Egan skips off to the next, and what she does give them to speak is seldom enlightening or even entertaining. I cannot improve on the phrase "forced quirkiness", already employed by several reviewers here, in describing the feel of this book and its cast.

Egan's prose is milky-smooth, but wasted here. It is the only thing imbuing the characters with any humanity, yet they never transcend the page. They never feel three-dimensional but are rather stuck in a very self-conscious, writer-corralled world. They feel as parodies of the characters one might find in an independent student film, and I'm not going to deny that the focus on the music industry, already a yawn for me, and the inclusion of a punk band called the "Flaming Dildos", yet a bigger yawn, informed that impression. In reading, I asked myself continuously: Do these feel like real people? Do these feel like people I know? Do these feel like people I'd want to know? What are these people telling me about myself? I came up with very little.

The postmodern techniques Egan uses, such as a chapter done as a Power-Point presentation, are just that: transparently postmodern techniques. They are not innovative, or even very effective, eliciting maybe a smile and nod for the gimmick but quickly overstaying their welcome. In the novel "House of Leaves", the unique and ergodic typography, while still a gimmick, nonetheless has an understood reason for being. In Joyce's "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", the text grows as Stephen Daedulus grows, evolving from near-incoherent child-babble to richly-packed prose, thus allowing us to follow and appreciate his transformation.

As mentioned prior, my frustration is likely exaggerated by dashed expectations, which were dashed harsh and dashed far. Probably what also didn't help matters was that alongside "Goon Squad" I also read Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" and several novellas by H.P. Lovecraft. In the cosmic, sanity-buckling grandeur of those authors and their concerns, the concerns of Egan's whiny, wistful, impotent characters were ground into granules. Perhaps the scene best capturing the spirit of "Goon Squad" is when it describes the extraordinary phenomenon of nonlocal communication between separated photons, all in the context of people recognizing a Lindsey Lohan-type at a local restaurant. One can say it was trying to be witty, clever, quirky, but in the end, to me, it was just empty.
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