Patrick Brown's Reviews > A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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's review
Mar 23, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2010, favorites
Recommended to Patrick by: Edan Lepucki, everyone on the internet,

Spoiler alert: You will get old. You will die. Things will never be like they are right now. And yet, how things are right now will determine how they are in the future. This is so.

The "goon" in the title of this book is time. It opens with a quote from Proust, the poet laureate of memory, about how we cannot recapture the people we were in past the places where we were those people, but rather that those people exist within us, always. And that, it seems to me, is more or less the book, in a nutshell. But, oh, how it gets there. How the story unfolds -- stories, really -- is breathtaking. This the best book I've read this year.

A collection of narratives -- they aren't really stories -- centered around various record industry denizens -- an aging producer, his assistant, her college best friend, the producer's mentor, his wife's brother, a publicist, etc. -- Goon Squad is a novel about lives. It opens with Sasha, the beautiful, troubled assistant to record producer Bennie Salazar -- and continues on through a host of characters who knew them. And knew is the word here, for the lesson of the book seems to be that we are not the same people we were before. Those people are dead, and yet the people we all became -- the sagging, sad, tired, knowing people we are now -- those people are inextricably tied to the people we were. We are simultaneously incapable of recovering what was lost and yet bound to know what it is that we're missing.

Does this sound like the book is horribly, horribly sad? It isn't. It's beautiful and clever and very smart, and, okay, a little bit heartbreaking. One of my favorite aspects of the book is how it deals with technology. Facebook, in the novel, is a kind of memory, excavating lost lives from the ether, reconnecting people with the people they were before...or at least the people they knew before. And in the end, it's a burst of horrible, relentless technology that seems to save the music business. And one of the most powerful chapters of the book is told in powerpoint (To wrench soul from the teeth of a Microsoft product is truly a feat unto itself). In fact, this book may be one of the most subtly speculative works of fiction I've read. It presents a future near enough to include all of us, close enough to be recognizable, and still strangely different from where we are today.

I realize this review dances around the book. It tells you what the book is about without really telling much of what the story is. And that's because the story of the book wouldn't sound like much on its own: Some people grow up. They work in the music business. Their friends die, and then so does their business. But those people keep going. They have lives and love affairs and children. They make new friends and rediscover people they assumed were dead. Their lives cross with one another in myriad ways. And then they cross again. I keep returning, again and again to the section on Jocelyn, a girl who ran away from home to be with a record producer, a man who spit her out almost before he was done chewing her up. The passage is on page 65, and it's one of several haunting paragraphs in Jocelyn's section:

"We stand there, quiet. My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?"

This book, it ambushed me.
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Quotes Patrick Liked

Jennifer Egan
“We stand there, quiet. My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?”
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Reading Progress

March 23, 2010 – Shelved
August 16, 2010 – Started Reading
August 16, 2010 –
page 25
August 17, 2010 –
page 35
12.15% ""When does a fake Mohawk become a real Mohawk? Who decides? How do you know if it's happened?""
August 19, 2010 –
page 75
26.04% ""Some mornings, the sun looks wrong outside my window. I sit at the kitchen table shaking salt into the hairs on my arm, and a feeling shoves up in me: It's finished. Everything went past, without me. Those days I know not to close my eyes for too long, or the fun will really start." This book...oh my god."
August 22, 2010 –
page 176
61.11% "Just got to the infamous Power Point chapter. Can't wait to see how this plays out."
August 22, 2010 – Finished Reading
August 30, 2010 – Shelved as: best-of-2010
January 21, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites

Comments (showing 1-34)

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message 34: by Jason (new)

Jason Great review, Patrick.

message 33: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Proust meets PowerPoint, and you made it look easy. Nice work!

message 32: by Edan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Edan Patrick, it's really hard to get an A from Mike Reynolds, so enjoy it.

message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy You get an A from me too for a most well written review. I just reviewed Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply and it sounds like there are similarities of subject. But no one beats Jennifer Egan for me in contemporary fiction. Goon Squad just went to the top of my list. Thanks.

Christopher Excellent review. This one ambushed me, too.

message 29: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Payne Wow. This review is so much more interesting, engaging, and well-written than the book itself, outside of the PowerPoint chapter.

message 28: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate I just finished this book and came across your review. You said everything so eloquently that I struggled to put into words. Well done.

Christine Just finished it and agree 100% with your review...better than most in the Sunday NYTs.

Larry Buhl Good review. From a fellow ambushee.

Chris Go Wonderful review! You got the book.

Elaine Kasteler I really didn't like this book - but after reading your review, I've felt a more open to the direction the book took and how the characters bounced around. Thanks for your thoughts.

Serena Could you explain the difference between a narrative and a story?

Madeline Fabulous review.

Robin This review was better than the book!

Madeline Dale - I agree about that particular chapter, I loved i and found it incredibly moving.

message 19: by Deb (new) - rated it 3 stars

Deb Great review. Thanks

message 18: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Word.

Michelle Great review!

Karin I started to review this book, but I don't think I could write anything better than what you have said here. Great job!

Celeste Thanks for a great review.

Barbara Lawrence Wonderfully written review. I couldn't agree more. It amazes me when there is such a crazy range of reviews on any given book. Like you, this book "ambushed me" and leaves me wondering just what it is negative reviewers look for in books. What on earth do they think is "good" if they can't see the brilliance, the sophistication of a book like this one?

Cherryl Brooks Excellent comment. Though not quite ambushed, it left me feeling hopefully distressed.

Cherryl Brooks Ditto on Karin's comment. They need to offer a share button on this site.

Pablo Soler This review was better than the book! Correct!

Sharon Bakar You wrote the review I wanted to write (but was too lazy to!). Very well written.

message 9: by Fiona (new) - added it

Fiona Mansell A brilliant view. I now understand this book!

message 8: by Adrienne (new)

Adrienne Gosh, you wrote this review 5 years ago! Today I have finished this book (it was waiting for me on the shelf for over a year). Your excellent review has helped me to pull my thoughts and feelings together as I sit and contemplate the novel. Wish I'd kept a list of characters and connections (maybe not in the spirit of the book) as I did get confused. Your piece has helped me comb through the tangles. Thanks.

Katherine Well done!

Katherine Well done!

Katherine Well done!

Seattle Al Nice review. There is something fresh and energetic about Egan's writing.

message 3: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann Well done!!

Seattle Al Reviewing the review, it now occurs to me that the book may work better for those of us who spent a portion of our youth in ways that now seem enchanted. I had occasion to talk about wistfulness with two (much older) people who in their teens had joined the Norwegian resistance (in the 1940s). One had been imprisoned for a year. They had no sense of looking back on a cherished youth. In contrast, I participated in a lot of the Woodstock generation's goings-on. Egan's book was powerful for me.

Seraphina I agree with Hector, this review is much better than the book, which I felt was trying too hard in general with no soul or depth behind it, trying too hard to be hip and deep with no irony and mediocre writing. It does not uphold the caliber of writing the previous Pulitzer winners have.

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