A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

• Paperback: 341 pages

• Publisher: Knopf Doubleday, 2010

• ISBN: 0307477479

• Genre: Adult Contemporary Fiction; Literary Fiction; Pulitzer Winner

• Recommended For: Anyone who doesn’t mind exploring the highs and lows of humanity and alternative writing structures.

Quick Review: Egan’s novel is highly relatable and imaginative. It appealed to the rock music lover in me, the jaded listener that I am today, and the avid reader of books like Generation X by Douglas Coupland and Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. If you share my interests in music and alternative writing styles, I highly recommend this book.

However, while I loved this book–5 stars loved it–many readers hated this book. There seems to be no middle ground! So, if you are interested in A Visit from the Goon Squad, follow this special recommendation: if you check it out, read the first three chapters. If you don’t like them, stop. That simple.

How I Got Here: My interest was piqued when I began seeing glowing reviews alternating with seething reviews for it on Twitter. Then, I joined the Award-Winning Challenge, and saw that Egan’s novel was the 2011 winner for the Pulitzer. So, I put it on my wishlist, and voila! It appeared under the Christmas tree!

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

National Book Critics Circle Award Winner

PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

A New York Times Book Review Best Book

One of the Best Books of the Year: Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, The Miami Herald, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Newsday, NPR’s On Point, O, the Oprah Magazine, People, Publishers Weekly, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Slate, Time, The Washington Post, and Village Voice

Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

My Analysis and Critique:

Note on my review: This is the first and only time that I have read a book and absolutely had to write a review immediately after! I finished this book on December 27, wrote the review right after, and have been waiting for an opportunity to publish. My point is, I was compelled to share about this book right away–a sign of a good book!

As with all books reviewed, I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad without reading any other (full-length) reviews, immersing myself in the book and jotting down notes and connections as I read. Then, upon finishing the book, I hit up Goodreads to read other reviews. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I already knew that Egan’s novel got mixed reviews just based upon comments on Twitter. However, I just can’t believe how expansive the divide is between fans and haters of this book!

So, I’ll start with my feelings on Egan’s novel. I loved this book. Unlike many readers, I connected with all of the characters (and there are many!). This novel spans many generations connected to music: the 1970s gritty punk scene to the modern jaded scene to a future “connected” music scene. Each chapter focuses upon a different character who is somehow connected to previous chapters’ characters, weaving one long narrative on what it means to age and change and be affected throughout the decades. Each character is human and flawed and I could relate to each one. This might be because I’ve known people in my life in some way similar to each character. My parents raised me surrounded by rock music, and I have my own little punk rock past, and I have always been friends with musicians and people who work in the music industry. And, I have always known people who had major flaws and made major mistakes. So, all of Egan’s characters felt like people I might know.

Jennifer Egan's Powerpoint Chapter

The Well-Discussed Powerpoint Chapter

Egan also gets rather experimental with the structure of her novel. Much ado has been made about the PowerPoint chapter, a first person narrative from a 12-year-old girl. Many reviewers see this chapter as Egan being cute, but I disagree. Egan uses this and other chapter formats as a tool to further illustrate who each character is. In this case, it’s a “tween” girl journaling about her family, who, at one point, defends her use of PowerPoint slides in a conversation with her mom:

Mom: “Why not try writing for a change?”

Me: “Excuse me, this is my slide journal.”

Mom: “I mean writing a paper.”

Me: “Ugh! Who even uses that word?”

Makes sense to me! Kids find it “boring” to write formally (ask any of my 12-year-old students learning how to write a thesis statement). Just be glad it wasn’t an entire chapter written in text messaging (although, in the following chapter, it seems that no one feels comfortable conversing, it all takes too much work, so they text each other while sitting/standing with that person right in front of them!). Her other chapters switch POVs, from third person to first person to one chapter being written in the second person (the character feels that he is looking at himself from beyond as he lives life, so it fits!).

Dali's The Persistence of Memory

Egan as Dali?

The way I see it is this: I’m not into art, and yet I am into the art of fiction and narrative. If I want a Michelangelo, I’ll read Shakespeare. If I want a Monet, I’ll read Austen. Sometimes, I’m even in the mood for a Thomas Kincade, and I’ll read a book like The Peach Keeper–lovely, but light. Yet, I can also appreciate the Dalis– the Palahniuk novels, House of Leaves, and Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. This is my art, and I dig it.

Overall, this is a novel about the inescapability of time (the “goon”) and its effect, both positive and negative, on all of us. Oriented around the music scene, it delves into selling out, drugs, disorders, disease, heartbreak, sex, money, truth, family, and love. Yet, without being in the music business, I have, as I’m sure most people have, dealt with all of these issues in some way in my life. In this way, Egan’s novel is highly relatable and imaginative. It appealed to the rock music lover in me, the jaded listener that I am today, and the avid reader of books like Generation X by Douglas Coupland and Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. If you share these feelings about fiction and interests in music and alternative writing styles, I highly recommend this book.

Links:

Jennifer Egan’s Website

Cassie’s Review: “Pissed at Pulitzer” (Although we disagree, she is a damn good reviewer!)

Goodreads Reviews

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