Scott Axsom's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Jul 11, 12

it was amazing
Read from July 06 to 11, 2012

For me, literary fiction transcends genre by taking the technical aspects of storytelling – character, plot, dialog, tension, resolution, etc. – and delivering those things through prose that has, itself, been accorded paramount importance. As a result, literary fiction functions on levels akin to those of poetry and, accordingly, I’ve never been a fan of messing with something for which I’ve developed such an abiding reverence. As a purist, I’ve long preferred writing that lets the rhythms and beauty of the language serve as a sort of liturgy. That said, I admittedly loved, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and it was certainly experimental but not on the level of Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”. In this book, Egan takes storytelling to its current technological extremes and manages to do so while crafting an extraordinarily beautiful literary novel - something I did not think was possible.

The main theme of the linked stories in “A Visit from the Goon Squad” is the flow of time and Egan plays with the concept throughout this work. Her most poignant, and universal, message is that time is a Goon - it sneaks in while our attention is diverted by life itself then it abducts our hope and steals our dreams. The book offers a glorious dose of scathing social commentary on the culture of celebrity and the illusions of popularity but the most touching aspect of Egan’s exquisite polemic is her sweeping exploration of age and aging, time and its mysterious, inexorable march. She accomplishes this through such a wide array of perspectives and devices that I couldn’t do justice to the variety here. Suffice it to say that she’s taken literary fiction and stretched and molded it to fit her own desire, which is clearly to smash the very concept of literary fiction to shreds before remaking it to modern specifications.

Every review of this book mentions the PowerPoint chapter and, as an avowed literary Luddite, I was dreading it. Indeed, as the novel progressed and I grew to love it more and more – as I began to genuinely cherish Egan’s prose – a hope grew within me; “This is such a beautifully told story, please don’t screw it up.” And then... the dreaded PowerPoint chapter appeared and, at its conclusion, I wept. It is, arguably (along with the chapter on the aged Lou), the best chapter in the book. This brilliantly conceived snippet, crafted around a boy's obsession with the silence in music, reaches it’s emotional crescendo with a PP slide that's blank – it contains no words, no symbols of any kind – and, with the solar plexus punch Egan delivered via that white space, all my shibboleths were decimated and she forever secured her spot among the pantheon of literary iconoclasts. Damn you Jennifer Egan and your rule-smashing, gut-wrenching story-telling.

Before reading this Pulitzer-winning novel, I would've never imagined that such delicious fiction could be decanted from such exotic fruit, but I was wrong. Literary fiction is most often identified with lyrical prose and profound character study, so how can the very absence of words achieve such heights? Read “A Visit from the Goon Squad” to find out. It’s a stunningly poignant, painfully beautiful and hilariously accurate take on the monstrous and majestic passage of time. And the story's method of delivery may be the most telling tale of all.
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