Scott Axsom's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Jul 06, 2012

it was amazing

For me, literary fiction transcends genre by taking the technical aspects of storytelling – character, plot, dialog, tension, resolution, etc. – and delivering those things through prose that has, itself, been accorded paramount importance. As a result, literary fiction functions on levels akin to those of poetry and, accordingly, I’ve never been a fan of messing with something for which I’ve developed such an abiding reverence. As a purist, I’ve long preferred writing that lets the rhythms and beauty of the language serve as a sort of liturgy. That said, I admittedly loved, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and it was certainly experimental but not on the level of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. In this book, Egan takes storytelling to its current technological extremes and manages to do so while crafting an extraordinarily beautiful literary novel - something I did not think was possible.

The main theme of the linked stories in A Visit from the Goon Squad is the flow of time and Egan plays with the concept throughout this work. Her most poignant, and universal, message is that time is a Goon - it sneaks in while our attention is diverted by life itself then it abducts our hope and steals our dreams. The book offers a glorious dose of scathing social commentary on the culture of celebrity and the illusions of popularity but the most touching aspect of Egan’s exquisite polemic is her sweeping exploration of age and aging, time and its mysterious, inexorable march. She accomplishes this through such a wide array of perspectives and devices that I couldn’t do justice to the variety here. Suffice it to say that she’s taken literary fiction and stretched and molded it to fit her own desire, which is clearly to smash the very concept of literary fiction to shreds before remaking it to modern specifications.

Every review of this book mentions the PowerPoint chapter and, as an avowed literary Luddite, I was dreading it. Indeed, as the novel progressed and I grew to love it more and more – as I began to genuinely cherish Egan’s prose – a hope grew within me; “This is such a beautifully told story, please don’t screw it up.” And then... the dreaded PowerPoint chapter appeared and, at its conclusion, I wept. It is, arguably (along with the chapter on the aged Lou), the best chapter in the book. (view spoiler) Damn you Jennifer Egan and your rule-smashing, gut-wrenching story-telling.

Before reading this Pulitzer-winning novel, I would've never imagined that such delicious fiction could be decanted from such exotic fruit, but I was wrong. Literary fiction is most often identified with lyrical prose and profound character study, so how can the very absence of words achieve such heights? Read A Visit from the Goon Squad to find out. It’s a stunningly poignant, painfully beautiful and hilariously accurate take on the monstrous and majestic passage of time. And the story's method of delivery may be the most telling tale of all.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Joy (new)

Joy Marshall What a stunning review ,Scott. Eloquent and inspiring. This book is going on my ever increasing reading list . I finished Olive Kitteridge around 5am yesterday. Naturally Olive and other characters and places have stayed with much the same way as Logan Mounstuart has done since I completed Every Human Heart . I am very new to Kindle and loving it. I have been a voracious reader since childhood and was lucky enough to work in libraries for ten years. Such a fulfilling job. However, due to serious health problems I had to give up work in 2010. Until a month ago I'd not been able to get more than a few pages into any book I picked up. This Kindle and William Boyd have finally 'cured' me. So why am I telling you this? In probably an inappropriate place as well! Well, I came across your review for Olive, was impressed by your eloquence , then spent an age going through all the books you've read to find Winter Wheat . Was really impressed by the bredth and depth of your reading...not to mention your reviews and the friendly and intelligent interaction with other 'Goodreaders'. So I made my very first friend request and felt the need to write this down. Another big achievement for me. My main, chronic health problem is CFS/ME/Fibromyalgia so most things I only do in my head! Anyway, nice to 'meet' you Scott. I look forward to reading more of your reviews/comments and pinching many more ideas from your impressive list of books .Best wishes and thanks for giving me further motivation to once again become the avid reader I used to be. Rediscovering a part of yourself you believed lost is just wonderful.
Only problem is it's playing havoc with my sleep/bodyclock issues! Godfrey - it's nearly 5am AGAIN!

message 2: by Scott (last edited Sep 30, 2016 09:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Scott Axsom Joy wrote: "What a stunning review ,Scott. Eloquent and inspiring. This book is going on my ever increasing reading list . I finished Olive Kitteridge around 5am yesterday. Naturally Olive and other characters..."

Thank you so much for this, Joy. It's a pleasure to meet you and an honor all around. I sent you a private message, as well, so be sure to check your inbox.

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