Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"'s Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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May 12, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: started-it-hated-it, pyoo-litzers
Recommended for: Crackheads
Read in May, 2011

Um, this is just BAAAAAAD. Bold-face, capital-letters BAD. Absolutely awful!
What.....were.....they.....thinking????? Oh, I forgot, they weren't!
When did the Pulitzer become the Puke-litzer? I'll never again trust that prize designation except with books from a long time ago.

Don't be fooled by the first chapter, which is not too bad. Sort of an interesting start, about a kleptomaniac aging punk rock chick. After that, FORGET IT! Dumpster filler.

A lot of people make a big mention of the PowerPoint section of the book. Cool gimmick, right? But as far as I'm concerned, there's too much emphasis in the book on (cough cough) power "points" in general, if ya know what I mean. Left a bad taste in my mouth, and in the mouths of some of the characters, no doubt.

So aside from the gamahuche and other potency obsessions, there's a lot of cocaine and 'ludes and really bad punk rock song lyrics. Oh, and a lot of really annoying, unlikeable characters who seem to substitute therapy for actually getting on with their lives.

I wouldn't have been so hard on this book had it not been given such a prestigious award. I never would have even tried to read it if not for the Pulitzer. Since when did gimmicky books with no substance merit consideration for literary awards? Was this really the best they had to choose from? I doubt it. I'm now fully convinced that the Pulitzer Prize has become a purely political handout dropped into some lucky writer's trick-or-treat bag. BOO!!
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 78) (78 new)

message 1: by Konstantinos (new)

Konstantinos Dear Jeanette i can't agree more with you that this book doesn't deserve the Pulitzer award. What i don't understand is why some people don't understand that an awarded book doesn't meanit is a good book. I am sure that some of my friends gave a 5 star rating because of the distinguished award and not because they really appreciated the book. To my opinion it's usually as good or as bad as we think it is.

Kenneth You nailed it. I was wondering why I kept reading after being disappointed each chapter deeper I got. Reading your review reminded me why... Chapter 1. The book gripped me right away, unfortunately that was the highlight for me.

Kenneth Jozee I agree 100% with you. I read it on an eReader as well and was so frustrated at the ever changing plot/time/characters. I tried hard to remember which characters were which, until like you I just stopped caring and read each chapter like it's own entity. Also after the PP chapter I was so happy to see how little of the book was left.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Hi Konstantinos, Unfortunately, you are right. Many people will think they are supposed to like the book or maybe they're missing something because they didn't like it. If people want to be entertained by it, that's great, but it's not fine literature to be placed on a level with previous winners.

Kenneth, after the first chapter, my reaction to the book was HUH? A friend of mine said it was like a bunch of tv episodes. I think she's right, but they seem to be episodes from unrelated shows. It's frustrating when a novel isn't a novel but a toy for the author to play with.

Lars what is it about the pulitzer committee's choice of egan that strikes you as political? what did they stand to gain or lose?

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Assuming Lars and LE are the same person(two posts of same question):

Lars, maybe you're thinking of political in a different sense than I used it. I'm not suggesting that the jurors were hoping for personal gain. Rather, the decision was political in the sense that they chose a book that would appeal to the greatest number of casual readers instead of one with lasting literary value. Maybe I should have said "politic handout" instead, but that sounds strange.

Lars ah, i see--so you feel that they chose the novel with the broadest appeal? it's hardly a traditional novel, though (whether it is gimmicky is up for debate, and fairly so)...i'm not sure i would characterize this novel as having obvious broad appeal, myself.

do you have a different novel in mind to which you would have given this year's pulitzer?

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" My two top choices would be Island Beneath the Sea and The Lotus Eaters. Both are by authors for whom America is an adopted country, so I don't know if they would qualify under Pulitzer guidelines. Tant pis. So it goes...

Cherrie My words after I read this book were "what the hell did I just read". Total waste of time.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Cherrie, I think that's the saddest thing about it is that people are wasting precious reading time on it because it won "the big one."

Cherrie Yea I agree. Also, goodreads has it promoted as well, that's what drew it to my attention. :(

ilovebakedgoods (Teresa) Wow, food for thought. I was ready to give this one a go and I happened to see your review. Now I have second thoughts. I don't really want to waste my time if it's that bad, and from what you wrote it sounds that bad. I may not always have the same tastes as you but you have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to one of your in-depth reviews.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Teresa, If you can get it from your library you can at least take a look through it. All my yammering aside, I think the one thing that would bother you about it is that it's not really a novel. There's no storyline that's even semi-linear. Each chapter starts in a different time, different place, and different character viewpoint. Take a look at some of the other one- and two-star reviews and you'll see what I mean.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Inane and/or asinine comments will be deleted. Don't waste your time posting them. If you loved the book, why not invest your time making a nice comments on a few reviews of others who also loved the book? :)

Heather Mize Hey Jeanette! I just finished this today. I didn't hate it, but I'm not sure why it won a pulitzer. Was it just because they threw the power point in? Because that part was hideously bad!

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" I have no idea why it won, Heather. Hence, the ranting in my review. Maybe the judges thought the whole thing was fresh and innovative? A lot of people do love the book, which is just dandy, but there's no way it's Pulitzer-worthy.

Heather Mize I guess so, but I agree with you 100%. I was expecting so much more since it won the Pulitzer. I've read a lot more 2010 books that were far more Pulitzer worthy than this. It's a mystery.

Lambert Hi Jeanette,

So you didn't think it should have won the Pulitzer, but do you think a 1 star rating is fair and balanced? C'mon.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Remember, Lambert, that star ratings are very much an emotional decision for ANY book. There are books I have rated 5 stars that probably don't strictly deserve it, but they made me feel five stars worth of good. This one made me feel one star worth of YUCK.

message 20: by Williwaw (new)

Williwaw The title of this book suggests that it was written by a teenager. Even the goodreads "objective" summary of this book makes it sound extremely unappetizing. Thanks for your review, Jeanette. I now know better than to touch this steaming piece of crap even with a fifty foot pole.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Williwaw, I took a peek at your profile and book tastes. I think you can safely avoid this one. ;) The title almost sets people up for disappointment. If there had really been an actual Goon Squad in the book, it might have been a better story.

Carly Svamvour It ticks me off when I think of how there's some hardworking writers out there. And something like this - some mediocre blathering actually gets the prize.

Lambert Sure I take the point that emotional response plays a big part. Maybe it didn't live up to some people's idea of what a Pulitzer prize winner should be. It's still a very clever and fine work of fiction though and I just think that a 1 star is an over reaction. Good luck to you though.

Jeanette wrote: "Remember, Lambert, that star ratings are very much an emotional decision for ANY book. There are books I have rated 5 stars that probably don't strictly deserve it, but they made me feel five stars..."

Jeanette wrote: "Williwaw, I took a peek at your profile and book tastes. I think you can safely avoid this one. ;) The title almost sets people up for disappointment. If there had really been an actual Goon Squad ..."

Williwaw wrote: "The title of this book suggests that it was written by a teenager. Even the goodreads "objective" summary of this book makes it sound extremely unappetizing. Thanks for your review, Jeanette. I ..."

Carly Svamvour Well, like I said elsewhere, I think the book would be better received by readers if the part where they're at a punk rockers party and filth is streaming from the performers' mouths.

That's the part that really turned me off. Not that I'm a prude, incapable of four-letter-words myself, it's just so 'cheap', that part of the novel.

I'm glad I hung in there and listened to the rest of the book because there were some good parts.

Might even listen to it again sometime ... maybe if there's another discussion going.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Thanks, Lambert and Carly, for your comments. Good Reads has grown so buggy and sluggish that I'm getting really frustrated trying to respond to comments. GRRRR! But I appreciate your input.

Genevieve I think the whole point of the PowerPoint chapter (apart from it being, in the story, an attempt by the autistic boy's sister to communicate ideas in terms better suited to his way of thinking) was to mimic and demonstrate that boy's pause at the end of a song. It's the pause made to make us wonder whether the story is over. Then the story goes on. The diagrams are a silence in the text.

Just saying.

Heather Mize Makes sense, but that alone is not brillance to me, and seems more of a rip off of Curious Incident. Almost like she was worried the novel iteself wouldn't stand...and she's right. It's not a Pulitzer winner in my opinion. Not even close.

message 28: by Jeanette (last edited Nov 02, 2011 12:23PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Hi Genevieve,
I know a lot of people thought the Power Point chapter was effective, and some of my friends even said it was their favorite chapter. I'm sure the author had valid reasons of her own for using it, but as you can see from my review, I'm not a fan of gimmicks, especially in Pulitzer winners that are supposed to be great literature.

Heather, I haven't read Curious Incident. Is there a parallel here?

Heather Mize I'm not a fan of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, but people always tell me I'm crazy for that. That book is about a boy with autism which is why I made the comment about the explanation of the power point. I agree it's gimmicky, and I can't appreciate gimmics either. Pulitzers should be for ground breaking writing, or intensely good stories. I didn't see anything like that here. It's a forgettable book, and the power point isn't new- just gimmicky like you said and that should not make a book award winning. It takes away from the book even more.

Genevieve My comment was appreciative of the PowerPoint chapter not because of why a character in the book made it (the girl), but how it works in the book, as a pause in the music of the text. The book is about the strangeness and scariness of what happens to people over a lifetime. Vanishing, compromise, casualties. The final chapter centers on a comeback, on the music resuming because the song isn't over. The music of one person's life and other people's expectations of him. (Egan shows really well how we aren't just hurt and disappointed and undermined by the tough things that happen to us, but also by the tough stuff that happens to people we believe in).The PowerPoint chapter is a very effective way of making the book perform it's own meaning. To me that is art, not cleverness.

Heather Mize I appreciate your view on it. my own interpretation stands, and is different. But, art is in the eye of the beholder just like beauty. That's what makes literature so great to me is that people can pull different things from it. The theme and beauty you see in this book, I do not. I see it in other books though, and those differing views and opinions are what makes sites like this so important to me.

Kristin Woah, weird. Why did this all of a sudden go to my update feed again. Did you change your review or something? Hmmm. Well, now that I've read this, reading your review means a lot more. HA! Also, call me a lame-o, but what are 'ludes?'

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" That is weird, Kristin. Was it on live feed or just in e-mail updates? That kind of weird stuff used to happen on GR a lot, where a bunch of someone's old reviews would just show up on the feed. I haven't seen it happen for a long time, though.
'Ludes is short for quaaludes, drugs that were quite popular in the 80s, and I'm sure still in regular use today.

Kristin How do you pronounce quaaludes? I wanna be hip on the 80's drug lingo. "Cwah-LUDES?"

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Kway-ludes. But if you're really hip you just say "ludes." ;-)

Sherah Surprised that one could dislike this book! I thought it was fabulous. I don't read much fiction but if it were like this I might. Baffled because it takes a lot to get me to care about characters, and I just DID... Maybe because I don't usually read books with punk rockers in it. I love punks so there ya go!

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Sherah, I often run across hate reviews of books I loved and wonder the same thing -- how could they hate it? This was a book I avoided when it first got popular because I knew it wasn't my kind of book. When it got the Pulitzer I figured it must be worthy reading, which is the only reason I gave it a try. A lot of my "rant" is that it won the Pulitzer. I can understand a lot of people enjoying it. I can't understand it being considered "literature."

Shane The surface content can seem a bit vapid in this book. The characters lack basic tenants of self respect and the ability to socially gel. It is a disjointed quasi postmodern text whose purpose isn't solely that of narrative/entertainment. The alienation displayed by the text is immensely difficult to trudge through, but it all exists for a purpose. The purpose is a reexamination of post industrial life. As the characters grow, their personalities diverge in ways they never had even considered (representative of the techno-shock that many went through from late 80s until the current moment). You see the characters as thin and vapid, and you see this is a mark of bad writing. However, their 'lack of depth' is apparent even to the characters themselves. they are vapid to even themselves, making them lush and rich.

To your dismay over the 'pukelitzer' prize. Along with espousing the points I have gone over, it is a technical masterpiece. Every possible point of view is utilized to show: A) the complexity of fiction writing and B) how those complexities aren't so far off from the dearth of human experience. its technicality is almost unmatched in American fiction writing. Thusly, because of this exploration of writing and form experimentation, the Pulitzer committee saw it as something ADVANCING the medium of fiction writing
After all, its an award for advancement, not perfection.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Hi Shane,
Thanks for checking in. You've written an outstanding review right here in the comments section, and you've made the excellent arguments for why the book appealed to a lot of people. And obviously, the Pulitzer judges share your assessment. As a rule, I happen to prefer the more traditional style, although sometimes I'll run across an experimental one that works for me.

Schnovey i totally agree. i was flying to Cali. and saw a passanger reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and i told him it was a phenominal series, and he in turn recommended this book to me....Ridiculous

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" So much for taking book recs from strangers, eh?

message 42: by Jamie (new) - rated it 1 star

Jamie Kerr I agree. SOOO bad.

Schnovey @ jeanette I still plan on taking recommendations on books from strangers, ill just do some homework on it before i down it to my Kindle or buy the book

Allison Really, there's no way to know if someone you know and consider a friend will like a book - I always feel horrible when I recommend a book to someone and they don't like it, but really, what else can we do except never recommend books? Personally, I thought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was crap, and I loved A Visit from the Good Squad. I take your points, and I appreciated that you said you would never dissuade someone from reading a book just because you didn't like it. This is also why I use my library extensively - I don't pay for a book (except in overdue fines) unless I think it's worth owning.

Thatcher Five stars for this review; one star for the book.

Domenica Disagree completely.

message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

I completely agree. How did this win the Pulitzer?

message 48: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Thank you Jeanette for your candor. Finally, someone who shares my disdain for this work. Well put.

message 49: by Ryan (new)

Ryan I have to agree with you here.

Toteispoe How can you say "goon squad" had no substance? The whole work was an amazing show of non-linearity in time and how people affect each other. Did you actually read the book or just skim it? Each chapter seemed to have a different tone and voice showing the extreme flexibility of Egan's style. Yes there was a lot of drug use and that added color and interest in the work like the vernacular in Huck Finn. Just because a certain narrator may seem unlikeable does not take away from the work but really show its strength as one character can be seen so disparately and differently from the contrasting points of view. One chapter you may dislike them but then you see things from their perspective or see their background and you can understand them better.

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