K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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May 29, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: pulitzer
Recommended to K.D. by: Pulitzer 2010
Read from May 29 to June 05, 2011

I attended a novel-writing workshop last week and one of the things that I took home with me was: write to express and not to impress. I have a feeling, and I could be wrong on this since I am just a paying reader, that Jennifer Egan wrote this novel A Visit from the Good Squad mainly to impress. Well, it won the nod of the Pulitzer jurors so the trick worked!

Each of the 13 chapters is told in different points of view mostly by people who the two main protagonists, Bennie, the gold-eating record producer and his kleptomaniac assistant Sasha interact with in the different parts of their lives and in the different locales: San Francisco, New York, Africa, Italy, etc. The narration is not chronological; it jumps from one time frame to another and it made my reading quite a struggle. It talks about punk and rock music and bands that I have not heard of maybe because I am not an American and not really into those music genres.

The most-talked about Powerpoint presentation seemed to be a refreshing way to tell a story and it provided a break or a pause, that seems to me as the main message of that chapter, from the usual plain narrative. My only comment is that the slides look precise in delivering the messages that they want to impart when in fact, they should have been done by the 12-y/o Ally, the daughter of the middle-age Sasha. They would have been more interesting and "realistic" if there are illustrations or hand drawings done by a 12-y/o rather than Venn Diagrams, Fishbone Analysis, Cause-Effect, Bubble Charts, etc. Though the slides look neat, they felt contrived if not overdone.

The main theme of aging and being sorry for misspent lives is subtly imparted and is the one of the strong points of this book. Also, the frequent incorporation of strong brother-sister relationships rather than the usual child-parent, husband-wife, friends, etc. is also noteworthy. Egan is very good at delivering her message via her characters. She does not state the obvious but she lets her readers figure out the lessons by themselves through the events and how her characters react to those and how they interact with each other.

Having said that, the story itself could have gotten at least 4 stars from me. However, Egan made the reading of this novel difficult with the multiple points of view and time frame. I have no problem with her different locales and narrative styles. Please don't get me wrong: This is not a criticism but just a matter of personal preference. Maybe this is the reason why I like Biographies and Memoirs. I normally prefer stories that are focused on a single character from page 1 to the last page as it is like getting to know somebody from head to toe. I hate shifting narratives about several characters especially if done abruptly and too frequently. Reading all the 13 chapters of this book is like reading 13 short stories and while reading you have to figure out how one or two of the characters relate to the previous. Not only you have to spot them but also think of their age relative to the previous chapter. Then you have to go back and search what happened to that character in the last chapter where he/she appeared. A book this thick normally takes me only 2-4 days to finish but this one took me full (drop all the other currently-reading books) 7 days! When I read I normally become attach to my characters and it is just painful if in every 10 or so pages there are new ones that you have to meet and read about and if the character that you met and liked in the previous chapter reappears, you have to figure out what is his/her age and who are those people around him/her.

The last chapter brings back the character of Alex, Sasha's boyfriend, who only appeared in the very first chapter. This style reminded me of the circular narrative flow of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's masterpiece, that is one of the most unforgettable reads that I so far had this year (4 stars). Mitchell also used those styles (multiple POVs, shifting narrative, different (in fact, outrageously different) time frames and different set of characters. I even read some of the chapters with a huge Lexicon dictionary by my side, something that I normally hate - my learn-a-word-a-day-stage is now so yesteryears - but it was worth the trouble in the case of Cloud Atlas.

I just did not feel the same way with A Visit from the Good Squad. Part of the problem, I think, is that there is no character here that is likeable nor a character I can empathize with. It could be a cultural thing, e.g., eating gold flakes, klepto, fish as a gift, etc. though. But I just felt that all of the characters seem to be too distant and this book, overall, just alienated me.

I am not rating this with 1-star though. I still liked the novel's universal message and the use of the Powerpoint. Two saving graces of this novel, in my opinion.
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Reading Progress

2.0% "I am now in Chapter 3. Not sure if this is a nice book. Not all Pulitzers are IMO. I normally can't emphatize with kleptomaniac (Sasha) but I am interested on Bennie who EATS gold flakes! ha ha" 2 comments
83.0% "Chapter 4 is where I think I will like this book. Nice narration." 6 comments
04/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 76) (76 new)

Kwesi 章英狮 So far maganda ba KD? Na curious tuloy ako. Hehe.

K.D. Absolutely Yes, it is innovative in terms of storytelling, Kwesi.

message 3: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Good on you for sticking it out and finishing it! I liked your review:)

message 4: by Cee (last edited Jun 05, 2011 05:24AM) (new)

Cee Giving a fish, yes. Eating gold flakes, ??? Then again, Egan was raised in California and California is the birthplace of strange things... and the 2011 Pulitzer prize winner.

Goon Squad's synopis has not interested me and I like your review and clear opinion about it. Have you read any of her other work? Her other book, Look at Me, seems intriguing. I'll put that on my tbr list.

Kwesi 章英狮 Talking about write to express and not to impress, it reminds me of Syjuco's Ilustrado: A Novel. Diba?

message 6: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin I confess moderate suspicion of this book from the beginning. It smelled of contrivedness.

butter be scotch Thanks for reviewing the book, K.D.

I feel your struggle. When I read "Nick and Norah's Playlist", I was lost in the moments where they grab many reference on the Rock and Punk music. I never knew there are so many.

Though, I didn't bother reading the book's synopsis. I'm not attracted to the book's cover. bwahaha

message 8: by Velvetink (last edited Jun 06, 2011 02:01AM) (new) - added it

Velvetink Good review K.D. I fear I am more suited to memoirs and biographies also but am always willing to try new things. I cannot quite understand how powerpoint fits in the novel?

Angus Don't you think the novel is a little empty? It didn't have any emotional impact on me, which is the biggest criterion whenever I rate books.

message 10: by K.D. (last edited Jun 06, 2011 04:41PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely LISA: Thanks!

CEE: My friend told me that Egan is a good writer and that's the main reason why we read this together. I am still willing to try her other books but will have to wait for them to show up in my favorite second-hand bookstores!

KWESI: Yes, you are right. I don't really get the idea of writing something difficult to read just to be different (and win the nod of the literary critics). Maybe it's just me and my dream of reading more books rather than spending lots of time in just few.

GENIA: Yes, good female intuition!

BUTTER: I did not like the title also ha ha.

VELVETINK: The powerpoint is used in one of the chapters where a 12-y/o daughter of the female protagonist narrates. It's an innovative way of telling a story but in the end seems like a gimmick just to be different.

ANGUS: On the contrary, I felt some connections on misspent life of Lou and in a way with Bennie. I did not like the ending though. For me, it did not justify the whole story. I mean it is so neutral and forgettable.

Years for now, I think this book will just be used or mentioned in literature classes for two things: (1) the shifting POVs and (2) the use of powerpoint to tell a story. Other than these, it will just be one of those Pulitzer awardees that not too many people care about.

message 11: by Apokripos (new) - added it

Apokripos Oh,you've attended a writing workshop, share mo naman ang experiences mo K.D.

Monique The only writer whose work I read which, in my opinion, was meant more to impress than to express, is Miguel Syjuco. So far. :)

message 13: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely JZHUN: I think that's the main message that I liked: "Write to express rather than to impress." ha ha

MONIQUE: Yes, I agree.

message 14: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Interesting review and discussion here, KD!

message 15: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, B!

Cate (The Professional Fangirl) Fair enough. I understand where you're coming from.

And yes, I agree with. Most, if not all, Pulitzer Award winning books don't impress me much.

Schmacko I agree! I liked the technique more than you did, but the overall effect was subarctic.

Schmacko And I agree with Angus. And of prize winners, I did like Tinkerers, and I simply loved Kavalier & Clay, Oscar Wao, and especially March!

message 19: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Schmacko: Oh I will read Kavalier & Clay and March soon! Another friend has recommended that Chabon book many months ago. But nobody referred to March the way you just did! I mean using "especially." :)

Thanks, Cate!

message 20: by Chris (new) - rated it 1 star

Chris BTW - I believe the bands are fictional bands, which is why you haven't heard of them! I'm not done with the book yet, but have not enjoyed her style so far!

message 21: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Chris: Oh thanks for telling me. The way she described them, they seemed to be real bands!

message 22: by Alibiserver (new)

Alibiserver So how does it gauge up with Toxicology by Jessica Hagedorn?

message 23: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Alibiserver: I'm still to read Hagedorn. I have her Dogeaters in my tbr. No copy yet of Toxicology.

Little Creature I do not understand all the uproar over PP. Is it because it is supposed to be created by 12 year old? Or is it because people are thinking it is so innovative to put power point( w/o making people fall asleep) in a novel? In both the cases I do not see anything extraordinary. A 12yo thoughts can be presentation, bunch of drawings, few lines in diary,etc,etc. Though it did not feel like authentic 12yo old presentation – me as 12 yo might have used lots of clip art . About authors innovativeness? She has broached upon so many styles in this book, and it is one of them. But instead of exploring one particular style in detail, she just hopped form one style to other. As you said ‘impressing’ us that she may be adept at all of these styles, but not proving that she can take each of it to highest level.

message 25: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely I agree, Ruchita. Thanks for the message.

Danielle sheesh SPOILER MUCH. show some respect bud.

message 27: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely I am hoping you mean in the discussion, Danielle? Because I did not put a lot in my review. I am very wary of that.

Danielle no, the review. no one would know ALEX would even be involved still, if not for your review. part of the interest is wondering who will pop up again, etc. you may want to put a spoiler alert

message 29: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Oh yeah. Done.

Angus Ang sungit naman niyan. Eh di huwag siyang magbasa. Naintindihan pala niya ito eh, haha.

message 31: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely ANGUS: Ahh, she's got the point. It is the only spoiler in my review but it does not really spoil bigtime IMO. Unlike when you read for example "Unwind" by Neil Shustermann and you announce to the world that it is about organ donor ha ha. Anyway, I put the spoiler warning in the text. I thought I clicked "Include in Your Feedback?" so that this review will not be sent via email. I hope it works so that my friends will not receive this via email again. It's been what? Many months ago since we read this together.

Angus I think there is, and there will always be, a spoiler in every review. If you really think about it, spoilers are subjective. It depends on how the reader grasps the plot, which further depends on his comprehension. Heehee.

message 33: by K.D. (last edited Aug 18, 2011 02:37AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Yes. Also normally, I get this kind of comment (to put a spoiler) when my review has already gotten many votes. Example is my review of Jeffrey Eugenides' "The Virgin Suicides." The lady there even used strong words as if I just accidentally stepped on hes foot or something. At least Danielle here sounded respectful.

Angus I already read that one but I rechecked it to find out who that lady is. Shame on her! Haha.

message 35: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Angus, you are a very bad boy (ala-Leo lang).

Danielle thanks angus. yeah, it doesnt ruin the book, but it's nice not to know that part, ya know. awesome!

Danielle thanks K.D. i mean! :)

Alexis I liked your review and in particular the summation of the main theme of the book although personally I found it anything but subtle :)

message 39: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Thanks, Alexis. Sometimes I go out of hand when I become passionate about the book I just read.

Alexis Oh no, I meant, you mentioned the theme of the book was subtle and I didn't think it was--I thought the author sort of hit us over the head with it. I didn't mean to say your review wasn't subtle :)

message 41: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Got it, Alexis. Oh well, yeah. I think it really depends on the receiver. Thanks.

Paria I felt exactly the same way -- down to the comparison with Cloud Atlas! The book was technically "good," but I couldn't relate to any of the characters, so it lacked emotional impact. Whereas Cloud Atlas grabbed me from page one because I fundamentally cared what happened to Adam Ewing, Timothy Cavendish, Sonmi, etc.

message 43: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Same here, Paria. Thanks for dropping a comment here.

Susan Wells You have to be kidding. She is a great writer. Not once does she disenage me.

message 45: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely SuzyQ, that's great. I have her other books in my tbr. I will read them soon. Thanks for your thought.

Susan Wells You are welcome! I think sometimes you have to be in the mood to read certain writers in order to sync with them. I find her writing intellectually engaging. She does not waste her words or over imbellish because she's in love with a topic or whats to philosophize her views on life like some writers I've read recently. Her characters in this book are truly human.

message 47: by K.D. (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely Oh yes, I agree, SuzyQ. I'd also like to add that expectation plays a big role in liking/disliking a book. If this did not win the Pulitzer and I happened to just pick this up at the second-hand bookshop, I would have rated this with 4 or even maybe 5 stars.

Susan Wells Absolutely!

message 49: by Jerald Vernon (new)

Jerald Vernon Torres hey, K.D. is there any possibility that you can't relate to a story especially when a female writer writes it and you are a male. I don't know... I pick up this book from my mom's shelf, actually it was a series. I had a hard time reading it, but I finished the first book. The problem is on the second book. It is getting weirder and weirder. Now, I can't get through it. So I went on line and look at some reviews ...to my surprise all the reviews are positive. Weird right?

message 50: by K.D. (last edited Dec 21, 2011 03:30PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

K.D. Absolutely @JERALD: This is just the first book? I did not know that!

There are female writers that I enjoyed recently and gave five stars to their works: Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss and Chamamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of the Yellow Sun. I also enjoyed most works of A. S. Byatt and Virginia Woolf. Of course, Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite works by a female author.

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