Apologies that I’m late with this one (with a book coming out, I’ve been a little distracted), but I just finished reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
It’s fabulous. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. And well worth its Pulitzer.
Ignore the media flap. Ignore what might or might not have been said, ignore who or who did not get her panties in a bunch, and get your hands on this book, especially if you are a writer. This is a master class on structure, the use of fictional time, character development, dialogue, and point of view selection.
For me it combined the three best qualities of a “literary” novel: I couldn’t stop reading it, I didn’t want it to end, and I’m still thinking about it.
The novel is laid out as a series of linked short stories circling around a rock promoter and his assistant. I don’t want to spoil too much, although this has been a topic of media consternation since its early reviews, but one of the stories is told as a PowerPoint presentation. And it was one of my favorites.
As a reader, I appreciated the compassion Egan had for her characters. Some of them are deeply flawed and make choices that could be considered unsavory, like Sasha, a young woman who can’t control her impulse to lift an unguarded wallet in the first story. But Egan doesn’t judge her, or her other characters. She helps us understand them and empathize with them.
As a reader, I also enjoyed trying to figure out where I was in time and space in each story, depending on the characters that showed up, and where they were chronologically. Rather than, say, employing an easy chapter subtitle like, New York City, 1983, Egan conveys the time and place as an integral part of the story, using the cultural events going on in the background or the stage of the recurring characters’ relationships with each other. Readers like to feel smart, like they’ve figured out the riddle without having it spoon-fed to them.
I’m looking forward to reading her earlier books.
Did you read “Goon Squad”? If so, what did you think?