Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Random House, 2010
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307477477
highly recommended

From the cover:
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 Thoughts:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer for fiction this year. It was a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, and a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist. Obviously it is one of the must read books this year and I have been anxious to read it because it is also an unconventional book. It is a novel that covers the music industry, but also how our lives are interconnected with the lives of other people. The characters are struggling with failure and trying to find a greater meaning in their lives. The stories are set in the late 1970's to the early 2020's. 
The chapters in A Visit from the Goon Squad can be read as stand-alone stories. The stories are not told in chronological order. Considered separately, each story is an excellent character study piece. Taken as a whole Egan has tackled several subjects including friendship, growing up and growing old, the power of influence, the devastation of failure, teenage rebellion and ideals, and  the responsibility that comes with maturity. All the characters display, however, an overwhelming amount of self-absorption. All the characters in the  chapters/stories are definitely interconnected.
While presenting a novel in the form of short stories that are not in chronological order may not be a new idea, including the chapter that is a PowerPoint presentation is a new idea. In my edition his Power Point presentation ran from pages 234-309. While I thought it was certainly interesting, I can see where people might have issues with it as a chapter in a book. It does capture a new generation and the direction technology is going, as does the texting chapter.
I found the individual chapters to be fully realized character studies and I appreciated the way the lives of the different characters in the chapters were interconnect. It could be a bit depressing, though.
highly recommended

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. opening
Sasha, who was thirty-five, had passed that point. Still, not even Coz knew her real age. The closest anyone had come to guessing it was thirty-one, and most put her in her twenties. She worked out daily and avoided the sun. Her online profiles all listed her as twenty-eight.
As she followed Alex from the bar, she couldn't resist unzipping her purse and touching the fat green wallet just for a second, for the contraction it made her feel around her heart. pg. 6
More than once, Coz had tried to connect the plumber to Sasha's father, who had disappeared when she was six. She was careful not to indulge this line of thinking. "I don't remember him," she told Coz. "I have nothing to say." She did this for Coz's protection and her own- they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances. But in that direction lay only sorrow. pg. 8-9
The shame memories began early that day for Bennie, during the morning meeting, while he listened to one of his senior executives make a case for pulling the plug on Stop/Go, a sister band Bennie had signed to a three-record deal a couple years back. Then, Stop/Go had seemed like an excellent bet; the sisters were young and adorable, their sound was gritty and simple and catchy (“Cyndi Lauper meets Chrissie Hynde” had been Bennie’s line early on), with a big gulping bass and some fun percussion — he recalled a cowbell. Plus they’d written decent songs; hell, they’d sold twelve thousand CDs off the stage before Bennie ever heard them play. A little time to develop potential singles, some clever marketing, and a decent video could put them over the top. pg. 19
The sisters looked fantastic - if not right out of high school, then at least right out of college, especially if they'd taken a year or two off or maybe transferred a couple times. pg. 28
It's turning out to be a bad day, a day when the sun feels like teeth. pg. 88
"This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?" pg. 127


Jeanne said...

I loved this one, and didn't really find it depressing. The final chapter, with its look at the future, is my favorite.

Lori L said...

I did find several of the characters depressing - of course that could be my state of mind too. But, honestly, the passing of time, the goon squad, can be both hopeful and depressing in equal measure in real life.