Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Review: "A Visit from the Goon Squad"
I just finished Jennifer Egan's marvelous "A Visit from the Goon Squad," which won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for fiction. Like 2009 winner "Olive Kitteridge," Egan's book is made up of interconnected short stories that go backward and forward through time ("Time's a goon,"more than one character says.)
At the center of the novel are Bennie, a music producer, and his assistant Sasha. We see Bennie as a teenager during the height of San Francisco's punk scene, and later, as an old man, trying for one last success. We see Sasha, as a kleptomaniac 35-year old, as well as a nineteen-year old runaway. We also see, much more deeply than expected, the host of characters that populate their lives, that have influenced them and been influenced by them.
In fact, most of what we learn about Sasha and Bennie is indirect; these two characters are on the periphery as their friends, wives, and mentors tell the story. Each chapter is told in a different character's point of view (sometimes first person, third person, one in second-person, and another through power-point presentation slides).
As strong as the first chapter was, it took me a while to get drawn in to Egan's book. I didn't always feel compelled to move on to the next chapter. But once I began to see the connections between the characters and understand what Egan was doing, a momentum carried me straight to the end. The writing is sharp and the novel holds together less as a series of interrelated short stories and more as a complete novel with something to say about our lives.