Sarah's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Apr 19, 2011

did not like it

The National Book Critics Circle Award. A Penn/Faulkner Award Finalist. The freaking Pulitzer. It has to be good, right? I thought so, to the point that it was the only book that i brought with me on the plane this weekend, but I was really disappointed.

This book, a collection of quasi-connected short stories, covers a span of time between the 1970s and 2020s and follows a variety of people, most notably a former punk rocker turned music executive and a young troubled kleptomaniac turned an adult troubled kleptomaniac. The titular "goon squad" equals "passing time" and the major theme of the book seems to be, "Hey, things change over time."

The first thing I noticed about the book is that I had already read several of the "chapters" in short story compilations and magazines over the past five or six years. The second thing I noticed was that I didn't enjoy any of them. I couldn't shake the feeling that Egan was distracting me from tired story lines and baffling, semi-heartless characters with a slew of gimmicks. For example: This story is written in second person! Please don't pay attention to the fact that it is merely one of a billion stories you have read in writing workshops about a love triangle between high, sad college students in New York City!

The lack-of-heart and not-my-style writing style did not blend well with the characters or stories, which seemed like a very over-used collection of people and places:

- A unhappy rich person who is not sure what to do with his life in New York City.
- People unsure of what to do with their lives collected in a loft somewhere in New York City.
- Some people on drugs and not sure how they got there, at the intersection of two streets in New York City.

Not that I don't think that you can write a successful, soul-having book about unsure people in New York City. I just didn't find this one touching or innovative or well written (although I admit, the best story in the book is the often-mentioned Power Point story). I simply couldn't get over the fact that Egan seemed to have trouble having her characters really feel. Often, she fell back on 1) mentioning 9-11 in a vague way or 2) mentioning that the character in question had tried to slit their wrists several times in the past or 3) having a dog bark in the distance. Seriously. A dog barks in the distance on the last page of the novel (I hope that does not count a spoiler). Oh, and I forgot to mention the worst thing! Egan should have won an award for Worst Last Lines of Stories. Again, these last lines seemed to be attempts at meaningfulness that really fell flat for me as a reader.

And while I've read some reviews that call the work satire, and Egan a humorist, I often found the work silly and meaningless instead of funny and insightful. I also kept getting the feeling that parts of the book was cobbled together - that Egan was "forcing" some of her shorter works into the novel-ish thing she was working on (example: the story about the general).

One of the other issues is that I can just think of so many better books in the last two years or so that were not recognized with such consistent praise - like Maile Meloy's Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. It has fewer bells and whistles, but it has a boatload of well-written stories and heartfelt characters. Seriously, go read that book instead.

In the last story in the book, a huge crowd gathers for a concert - not because they like the music, but because they have heard through social media that it is going to be a really great show. This is exactly how I felt about the book itself - I read some great reviews, I saw some friends mention it online, and i bought it without inquiring further. The one difference, I guess, is that the concert in the book ends up being good.

I think part of the problem is that I went in with very high expectations. But another part of the problem was that I wasn't made to care about any of the characters or their actions and that I found the "innovative" tools used to tell many the stories to be largely distracting and gimmicky. There used to be two buildings in that empty space of sky. A dog barked in the distance.

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Reading Progress

April 19, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
June 5, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Parsons Really? Are you going to write a review? I'd be interested in your thoughts, as some of your other reviews have been very insightful.

message 2: by Possum (new)

Possum Paderau I'm curious also. The synopsis seemed rather silly.

Sarah Mary, I did find the book to be pretty silly. I will put up a review.

message 4: by Carine (new)

Carine Sounds like Gossip Girl minus the fun. This is why I don't read fiction by living authors.

Sarah Oh my gosh Carine - you would hate this book so much! Maybe even to the point where you would enjoy reading it just for the emotional release.

But don't worry, I'm now reading Northanger Abbey.

message 6: by Carine (new)

Carine Enjoy!!! And give me a call when you're done with it. :)

message 7: by Olivia (new)

Olivia Thanks for saving me from reading this book (and also for the hilarious review)

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

thank you thank you! i HATED this book and everyone acts like she is the second coming of christ...

message 9: by Michele (new)

Michele Brenton Haven't read this book - but I'm glad it was written so I could read your review of it :) Will be giving the book a miss - thanks for the heads up.

message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Love your review, but I'll read it anyway.

Rodney I'm only a third of the way through, and already, I feel like I've wasted my time.

message 12: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Hey, are the stories in Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It interrelated like in Goon Squad or is it more just a collection of shorts?

message 13: by Sarah (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Emma - Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It is a simple collection of short stories... and I would argue that Goon Squad isn't all that interconnected.

message 14: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma That's good to know, thanks! We pretty much have exactly opposite opinions about this book.

message 15: by Alice (new) - rated it 1 star

Alice Couldn't agree more, except that I found the Power Point the most irritating part of the whole book.. well, maybe at a close second to the General/PR chapter. Love your comparison of the book to the concert. What a load of shite!

message 16: by Josh (new)

Josh  Taylor Your review was point on. I found the PowerPoint chapter to be unbearable.

message 17: by Hugh (new)

Hugh Theme:

I get that the theme is the passage of time and youthfulness lost. And I think the choice of music/PR people are perfect characters who fetishize youth (while denying that they'll ever lose it) and then render themselves obsolete as they naturally age. However, in the "dystopic future," Egan falls for her own conceit by making the "pointers" of children define current trends.

No. It's not that trends are set by younger and younger demographics. It's that trend setters age. I thought I knew the author's social commentary, but then she seems to have fallen for it herself in writing that the children of the trend setters become the trendsetters while still children. In this hyperbole, the author lost her distance from the characters by choosing that in the end. She herself seems to be believing what she was commenting on in the final chapters. Time is the goon, not the changing trends.

Voice and POV:

The 13 narrators idea is a bit of a writing class assignment made into a novel. I don't mind the concept, but the only thing that changes with each chapter is the point of view. WIth the two exceptions of the Jules Jones article and the power point chapter, the voice of the narrator does not change. Perhaps the ramblings of Scottie are a different voice from the other characters and the Uncle makes more art references off handedly, but the vocabulary and descriptiveness of each narrator is still Egan. Beautiful descriptions, but the same voice. Did they all think with the same style, descriptiveness and vocabulary?

A similar idea was executed much better in the youth book, "Wonder." I listened to in in the car with my 10 yo and 6 yo kids and some chapters were easily understood by the 6 yo, and others, she was lost. The voices of the narrating character and the vocabulary changed that much.

In "A Visit from the Good Squad" I began each chapter assuming it was another narrator, but unable to guess who until the expository elements informed me. So it was another character's point of view, but with the same (Egan's) voice.

I've read that the stories were not linear enough and disjointed. I disagree. They weren't distinct enough and the overarching theme (which was actually leading somewhere) crashed at the end, when the theme and the social commentary decided they agreed.

Christena Spot on. Hated it!

message 19: by Anne (new) - rated it 1 star

Anne Bryson Read the first two stories, decided life is too short to bother with the rest.

Heather S " not because they like the music, but because they have heard through social media that it is going to be a really great show. This is exactly how I felt about the book itself - I read some great reviews, I saw some friends mention it online, and i bought it without inquiring further. The one difference, I guess, is that the concert in the book ends up being good."

Yes!!! If the concert had been disappointing it would have been a perfect metaphor for the book itself.

Also, Pointers? really? Stupidest thing I've ever heard.

Heather S Also I will totally read the book you suggested, as well as "Wonder" suggested by Hugh

Tifany Meh I loved this book
I cannot understand one star

Sunny Park I agree with Sarah. I did not like the style of narration 'you did...., you saw....' all so confusing

message 24: by Tim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tim Meechan Thank gosh for your review, if I didn't read one similar every so often, I'd think "I was eating crazy pills"

message 25: by Kristi (new) - added it

Kristi Krumnow written in second person???? noooooooo

Theres Lessing Ahaha the concert comparison is hilarious!

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