Lee's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Sep 10, 2010

Read in September, 2010

A must-read for "creative writing" types interested in POV/style variation. Otherwise, for the second consecutive year, the Pulitzer committee awards nearly empty formalism (see "Tinkers"). Both "Tinkers" and this one are formally "unconventional" and concerned with time, yet otherwise seem to have very little to say, as they used to say.

I liked the PR/General chapter. I liked a description of old tattoos on saggy flesh. I liked the big fish caught in the East River. I really liked the sudden jumps 35 years into the future! Otherwise, not my bag, ultimately.

Doesn't really involve music (despite cover etc) and when it does involve music it's from a troubled bidness or hackneyed adolescent "punk rock" perspective (overriding question: when does a fake mohawk become a real mohawk?!). Imagine buying a book touted as being about unicorns, with a lovely unicorn on the cover and reviews re: unicorn content, but then when you shell out $$$ and read it its unicornishness is like no more than 10%. (Speaking of which, it would be helpful if books with > 10% teenage girl content came with a label like a parental advisory sticker so pretentious early-middle-age dudes like myself would know to duck/cover.)

The mock-DFW footnote-heavy journalism section irritated me (maybe also because I read it on the 2nd anniversary of DFW's death).

The power point slide pages were formally clever but that's about it (also: it's Foxy not Foxey Lady -- intentional typo?).

Was always aware I was reading creative writing/contemporary literary fiction, a different feeling from reading something that feels like lit.

Unappealing characters (erection-laden men, many of them violent) who didn't deepen into 3D humanity for me. Not much (skim or even soy) milk o' human kindness, generally.

Language-y exactness consistently triggered distraction and zone outs in this reader (eg, a cascade of long hair described "like a shattered window" -- oh wait! Might the "shattered" bit relate to the structure? Or, um, who cares? Does it matter in the slightest?).

Speaking of structure, it didn't do it for me and didn't really seem particularly original.

Few, if any, stretches of insightful essayistic exposition and extended description, Chronos got mauled by a lionness (?!) but beyond that I detected few suggestions of subtextual stuff, maybe because my imaginative/generous reader sensors mostly switched off after the first 50 or so pages?

(Have people really compared Egan to DeLillo?! The eyes of nearly every sentence in DeLillo's best stuff always seem focused on subtextual prizes.)

It's a well-loved, omni-awarded book -- and even called "pitch perfect" in the NYT book review -- but I guess my ear's attuned to the music of other spheres. So be it if I'm outta fashion. As Mr. Bowie says re: the goon squad, beep beep!

UPDATE TWO MONTHS LATER: My mama -- a really serious reader (40+ books/year) -- tried and failed to read this. Just wasn't buying it.

UPDATE IN APRIL 2011: Review updated post-Pulitzer win.

UPDATE IN OCTOBER 2011: When you google "David Foster Wallace" you get an ad that says "David Foster Wallace fan? We think you'll love A Visit from the Goon Squad-2011 Pulitzer winner." The link leads to the official page for the book, a sort of blog with excerpts etc. Note: I'm not sure that David Foster Wallace's energetic, explicitly intelligent writing has much in common with Egan's in this book. Interesting: they haven't bought an ad on searches for Murakami, Kafka, or DeLillo, but they HAVE for "Jonathan Franzen."

For more re: raging concerns with calling this a "rock 'n' roll novel," see here: http://eyeshot.net/should_not_be_modi...
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Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Most of this I agree to disagree with, but as a person who has been expected by literature to empathze with pretentious middle aged men since she was, in fact, a teenage girl, (and also as the author of a book with approximately 25% teenage girl content, and a therefore impure interest in this question)I am curious as to whether there is an explanation for why teenage girls are inherently unserious and unworthy of scrutiny. I would be so bold as to venture that far fewer readers react that way to books that focus on teenage boys.

message 2: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Hi Ms. Evans -- first, looking forward to reading your teen content! second, not sure about the gender split re: teen content. third, please note that i am still in the throes of EARLY middle age, although i still suffer from LATE pretentiousness, sort of like late capitalism - hope all's well

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Duly noted. When I devise my comprehensive book stickering system, I will be sure to make two distinct stickers, one for early middle age, and one for late middle age. Pretentiousness will be noted by the absence of sticker, or perhaps an ironic, glittery sticker.

KFed Yikes. If it's no better than Tinkers, which I found to be almost criminally uninteresting, then I might do myself a favor and avoid it completely.

message 5: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee it's totally different than Tinkers but seemed to me similarly empty, as though structural disjointedness and half-assed suggestions re: time satisfy on a thematic level

KFed Hm. I'll probably read the first 20 pages and assess from there whether to continue.

I'm sort of surprised Franzen wasn't even a finalist for the Pulitzer. I haven't read the book yet... But it sort of seemed to have "Big Award" written all over it.

message 7: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Huh. I assumed he won the National Book Award. Not so.

KFed I guess once he made amends with Oprah, the people-in-charge decided that was award enough.

message 9: by Doug (new)

Doug I've been on the edge of reading Goon Squad and while I figured it was musical, I am not overly put out to hear that it's not. Sounds like it's full of the commercial writer's idea of edgy. That can be alright with enough twists, turns and odd pov. But from your exegesis I assume Egan doesn't approach Lipsyte's or Hannah's oddity level. Maybe, as one in later middle age (much later), Egan's book will speak to me more than it did to you. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Lee.

message 10: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee You're probably right, Lars. Or maybe my use of "empty" means something like it overrelies on suggestion of significance that doesn't move me or make me think or that its thematic significance is undercut by formal soporifics -- ie, too back on readerly heels to care about exquisite investigation of "time" . . .

message 11: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee no, no, happy day -- without glorious readerly subjectivity, responses to books would be quantifiable as slugging percentages!

re: annie dillard, we had this convo already under my Tinkers impressions.

message 12: by Lars (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lars ha, i rarely jump onto these forums...interesting that you and i have tangled before--i did not seek you out, nor did i recall having commented before...my my my...

message 13: by Lars (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lars regarding egan's book, it is not flawless. that being said, it may have simply been what i needed at the time. once i made it through the first two chapters, i stayed up and read half of the book, lapping it up until 5AM.

it lost me a little in the second half--not because the stories were uninteresting, but because egan seemed to have taken us so far away from the "central" characters (if you accept the premise, of course, that this book has central characters) that she lost a little of what was grounding the first half.

the futurism of the final story, in so far as each chapter is a story on its own, seemed a little contrived (not to mention cynical) in a way that the rest did not. it seemed less driven by character than by an attempt to make a point.

overall, it worked for me--but as i said sometimes our opinions are dictated largely by what we need at the time, and this book was what i needed. definitely.

Jenn(ifer) this review describes how I felt about this book to a T. and Tinkers? what a snooze fest!

Mary Ann stalled reading midway - thanks for your comment - I'm in agreement. Why do women have to do the radical post-structural thing? We've got Charlotte Bronte, for heaven's sake!(less)

Eamonn Kelly Jonathan franzen was the first to come to mind in comparison to this book. Overly-lauded, boring and depressing.

message 17: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee I like Franzen -- or at least his last two novels. His sentences have a good sense of humor and he included a talking turd in one novel.

Tracy Reilly Agree about the music bit. Now why did I give it more stars? Maybe it had to do with being able to read this really fast. Forgot about the prizes... why does that make me want to lower my rating. It shouldn't except I'm naturally anti.

Tracy Reilly Actually, now that I think of it, it's probably the CHOICE of music that made me go a little lower. I rally want 3.5

message 20: by Laila (new) - added it

Laila Was always aware I was reading creative writing/contemporary literary fiction, a different feeling from reading something that feels like lit.

My thoughts exactly!!!

Tracy Reilly Haha --After a bit of a think, I'm knocking this down to a three. It definitely is NOT a rokinrollah's book…

message 22: by Ron (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ron Love the review. Characters I didn't care about or couldn't sympathize with. Interesting vignettes, some more than others. Left me cold for the most part.

Tracy Reilly Some day, I'm gonna write a REAL rock and roll novel.

message 24: by Wendy (new) - rated it 1 star

Wendy I don't think it's a must-read for "creative writing types." I don't think it's a must-read for anyone, really.

message 25: by Dey (new)

Dey Martin Tracy wrote: "Some day, I'm gonna write a REAL rock and roll novel."

And turn it up to eleven!

message 26: by Dey (new)

Dey Martin Tracy wrote: "Some day, I'm gonna write a REAL rock and roll novel."

And turn it up to eleven!

Tracy Reilly Dey wrote: "Tracy wrote: "Some day, I'm gonna write a REAL rock and roll novel."

And turn it up to eleven!"

Yes, it will be called "Lick My Love Pump", but it will sound like Chopin.

message 28: by Dey (new)

Dey Martin "Yes, it will be called "Lick My Love Pump", but it will sound like Chopin."

Or "Chopin my Love Pump?

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