'A Visit from the Goon Squad'
Author: Jennifer Egan
Published: Anchor; Mar. 2011
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal copy
Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2011), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (2010), National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2010)
Synopsis: Readers will be pleased to discover that the star-crossed marriage of lucid prose and expertly deployed postmodern switcheroos that helped shoot Egan to the top of the genre-bending new school is alive and well in this graceful yet wild novel. We begin in contemporaryish New York with kleptomaniac Sasha and her boss, rising music producer Bennie Salazar, before flashing back, with Bennie, to the glory days of Bay Area punk rock, and eventually forward, with Sasha, to a settled life. By then, Egan has accrued tertiary characters, like Scotty Hausmann, Bennie's one-time bandmate who all but dropped out of society, and Alex, who goes on a date with Sasha and later witnesses the future of the music industry. Egan's overarching concerns are about how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate and turn. Or as one character asks, How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about? Egan answers the question elegantly, though not straight on, as this powerful novel chronicles how and why we change, even as the song stays the same.
My Take: I am well aware that just because a book wins a lot of awards I may not like it, or God forbid, even 'get it'. Perhaps it will even call into question if I am even hip enough to 'get it', and as I read this book I go into some sort of downward spiral of whether I was ever hip enough like all of these kids in these books. Did I ever do enough drugs (no, I had this look about me where people didn't even offer them to me)? Did I ever have enough piercings (I tried to get my ear double pierced and woke up with my ear bleeding and the earring out)? Did I listen to enough cool-kid music (does Backstreet Boys count? Didn't think so)? So yeah this book could have sent me into some sort of downward spiral as I am now the ripe old age of 30. But instead, I realize that I often don't like awards books and I know that I don't like books that have jumpy prose so I was set up to not like this one so screw the cool kids and if this is where literature is going then I'll be reading classics in my old age.
Enough of that though, A Visit from the Goon Squad was the Literary Buzz Book of 2011. It's been everywhere, won every award and so my book club decided to read it. I thought that was a great idea because I knew I wanted to read it too. Rather than a novel though, this one seems almost like a series of short stories with interconnecting people. I was intrigued by the fact that you would be introduced to a certain cast of characters and one particular person from that chapter would be who would lead the next one and so forth. You never knew who were going to get throughout the book. It was interesting. If you didn't like someone, no biggie, you wouldn't have to read about them the whole time. The problem for me was the disjointedness of the story. If all of these stories were supposed to go together to prove Egan's thesis about how everyone will just get old anyway someday and lives and influences change, for me it was messy. For the literati it worked. That's fine. For me it didn't.
Some of the characters you meet include Bennie Salazar. We meet him as a kid in the glory days of the punk rock scene, at the height of his career in the music business, and again when he is trying to rebuild his business. His story is more linear. Others like Sasha's are not. We meet her as a young woman with a great career but a strange addiction. Later we discover her sad childhood and how she developed that addiction. There are many other characters. For me, the story that I liked most and wished the story could have centered around was Stephanie. She was a strong woman in a sad marriage. However, we got her for two short chapters.
I do believe this book is worth reading. It is vastly different from anything I've ever read before and for that reason alone I enjoyed experiencing it. It pushed me. So what, I didn't like it. It happens. Life goes on. I am happy that I can formulate my reasons why and join the conversation. That's worth so much and once again, I remain not the cool kid.
Cover Lust: I love this cover. There are many covers for this book out there. This is mine. I am attracted to pop-art covers and this one is beautiful with people dancing in a circle.