a.h.s. boy's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Mar 11, 2012

liked it

I'm a bit less impressed than I hoped to be by A Visit from the Goon Squad, but I'd still encourage giving it a read if you're on the fence. I was inclined to identify with the story -- Egan was clearly writing from a background I could relate to: I grew up a punk rock kid in the early days, and my brother ran a record label in Chicago. And, older now, I occasionally take time to reflect on the ponderous weight of the passing of time, and the changed lives (and deaths) of people I knew growing up. So I could certainly appreciate the reflections and perspective of the novel.

That said, A Visit from the Goon Squad was disappointingly not transcendent (and who doesn't want their reading to be transcendent, on the best of days?), but neither was it disposable. I didn't think of the chapters as "a collection of short stories" (as other reviewers seem to), because I always felt the need to maintain the thread of continuity, as soon as I could find it. This was occasionally a struggle, given the ambiguity of narrator and/or period in history of some of the chapters, and perhaps that was an ongoing low-level annoyance. Overall, I didn't object to the variations in time and subject (narrator), but I don't think, as a technique, it magically elevated the work to the level of artful genius. The "PowerPoint" chapter, as it has come to be known, might have been brilliant if the structure had more closely mimicked an actual presentation, as opposed to borrowing little more than the format of a slideshow to dress up what was often straightforward narrative (or simply dialog). In Egan's case, it ended up feeling too gimmicky, with no real payoff. Like a nicely-executed creative writing class assignment.

Mind you, as a well-written and interesting story, the book is great. Egan is a solid writer, has a good feel for dialog, is clearly bright and intellectually literate. As it was a "Pulitzer Prize" winning book, however, I think my expectations were made unreasonably high, and that is no fault of the author. (And perhaps I overestimate the worldly significance of the Pulitzer in general). Even Ms. Egan, in video interviews, describes the origins (and development) of the story rather cavalierly, rather than claiming to have set out to produce a cohesive expository work of, erm, staggering genius (to borrow a phrase). In that sense, I think she was rather successful. It's a good story well told, with nuanced insight and multiple layers of meaning. Everything you can expect of a good book. I'm just not sure how significantly I'm going to remember this particular book in, say, 10 years. And that says something to me.

I also have unreasonably high expectations of everything in the arts, so take all of this with a few grains of salt. It's probably not fair for me to hope for another Camus, or Joyce, or Dostoyevsky every time I read contemporary literature, but I do.

On a positive note, Egan did pen a truly exceptional and fine piece of emotional descriptive writing in chapter 11 (p. 210 of the first Anchor edition), concerning Ted's relationship with his wife Susan, and how he managed it by folding his desire in half (repeatedly). That entire passage reads like the best of an ultra-short Lydia Davis story, and you can't beat that in my book. So kudos to Jennifer Egan for that. Thanks for the read.
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Reading Progress

March 11, 2012 – Started Reading
March 11, 2012 – Shelved
March 11, 2012 –
page 124
36.36%
March 19, 2012 – Finished Reading

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