By: Jennifer Egan
Copyright Date: June 2010
Number of Pages: 340
Source: purchased at airport bookstore
Awards Won: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Critic’s Circle Award
Reason for Reading: It’s been on my radar since Margot profiled it her Pulitzer winners post
“And it may be that a crowd at a particular moment of history creates the object to justify its gathering, as it did at the first Human Be-In and Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Or it may be that two generations of war and surveillance had left people craving the embodiment of their own unease in the form of a lone, unsteady man on a slide guitar. Whatever the reason, a swell of approval palpable as rain lifted from the center of the crowd and rolled out toward its edges, where it crashed against buildings and water wall and rolled back at Scotty with redoubled force, lifting him off his stool, onto his feet, exploding the quavering husk Scotty had appeared to be just moments before and unleashing something strong, charismatic, fierce. Anyone who was there that day will tell you the concert really started when Scotty stood up. That’s when he began singing the songs he’d been writing for years underground, songs no one had ever heard, or anything like them-ballads of paranoia and disconnection ripped from the chest of a man you knew just by looking had never had a page or a profile or a handle or a handset, who was part of no one’s data, a guy who had lived in the cracks all these years, forgotten and full of rage, in a way that now registered as pure. Untouched.”
A Visit From the Goon Squad is a tapestry woven of stories belonging to characters whose lives intersect at various points. Each of the characters have some connection, however peripheral, to the music business. The novel spans the punk-rock nineteen eighties all the way to the not-so-distant future of the twenty twenties. It is a meditation on time: how we move through time, how time affects memory, and how technology affects our perception of time.
A few of the characters we meet:
Sasha: the kleptomaniac assistant to famous music producer, Bennie Salazar.
Bennie: The rags-to-riches music producer, awash with fame, whose move to an exclusive neighborhood proves to be his undoing.
La Doll: the top publicist of her time, until her abrupt fall from grace forces her to work for a genocidal dictator.
Lulu: La Doll’s precocious daughter who leads the story into the future.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from Goon Squad, but I was quickly hooked from the first page. What I found appealing about the story is the mosaic quality to the interconnected stories. The characters are so richly drawn they became living, breathing beings. I ached for them. The tone of the book is a bit somber and melancholy. We move forward and backward in time, meeting our characters at various intersections of their lives. There aren’t really any happy ending. It is simply life careening forward. This may not appeal to some people, but it was one of the characteristics I found most appealing. I love getting lost in another person’s story, learning all the juicy bits. I find the mistakes, regrets, and misfortunes just as appealing as the fortunes made and opportunities taken.
The novel is definitely quirky in its storytelling. It is broken up like a record into two parts (A and B); it moves deftly forward and backwards in time; the perspective changes with each story-one story is told from the second person, another story is written as a celebrity profile (complete with footnotes), and another is told entirely in PowerPoint, (which also happened to be one of my favorites.)
There is also a bit of a dystopian flavor at the end of the novel which takes us into the future. I was equal parts fascinated and horrified by the future Egan describes. It isn’t crazy out there like the future of handmaids or animals taking over. The dystopian flavors are subtle yet close to home to make it feel real, palpable and not entirely unlikely.
I was completely taken by surprise with this one. I had not read any reviews of it nor did I know what the story was about. All I knew was that it won the Pulitzer and Margot’s blurb sounded intriguing. It hooked me, grabbed me, and kept me fully engaged. The writing is so rich and compelling that I find myself wanting to turn back to the first page to start anew.