Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad
By Jennifer Egan
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780307477477, March 2011, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Creatively, disarming.

The Rest of It:

The question asked by many, “Is this a novel or a collection of short stories?” I am leaning towards “novel” but if it is, it’s not done in a traditional way. The narrative structure is what everyone talks about. It’s made up of 13 chapters, one of which happens to be a PowerPoint presentation and although not immediately connected, they do circle around to revisit the same characters but in a different time and place.

The handling of time, is really what this novel is about. How time slips away without you realizing it. How you are a speck on the timeline of your life and how you move forward, influenced by events of the past. There are lots of characters in this novel, but what they all have in common is that they all seem to be chasing time in some way.

Of the many characters, my favorite was Dolly, aka La Doll. In her day, Dolly was THE most sought-after publicist around but after a disastrous party, a party where hot oil rains down upon her guests, she finds herself trying to resurrect her popularity, doing business out of her living room and working with difficult clients. In an attempt to chase the past, she finds herself in similar trouble and at some point, has to admit that her ship has sailed. Dolly’s story is the one that seemed the most tragic to me, mainly because here she is, a mom with a young girl trying to make ends meet. I think any mother could relate to her plight. But, the other characters are also interesting and with the novel centered loosely around rock and roll, I found myself quite taken with these characters as they interacted with one another.

There were moments  sprinkled throughout that held my interest and then there were sections that just lost me, like the PowerPoint presentation that I mentioned above. Witty? Possibly. Distracting? Yes! Maybe if the subject matter of the presentation was something that I actually cared about, I would have been more tolerant of it, but it was about pauses in music. The longest pause. The shortest pause.  I mean, who the hell cares besides this kid who is sharing it with us? I didn’t really see a reason to inject this type of content into the story, besides to bring attention to itself.

I didn’t love this book, although I found parts of it good, if not very good. It was a little too disjointed for me and I was often distracted by the structure itself. It’s not a book that you can put down, and then easily pick up again. I almost always had to re-read some of the previous chapter before going on to the next one and who wants to do that? Initially the book charms you to the point where you let down your guard and then after just a few chapters, you throw your arms back up again.

If you read Egan’s other book, The Keep, you’ll find that Goon is a completely different book so don’t expect them to be alike in any way. I don’t think they could be more different!

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

44 thoughts on “Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad”

  1. I agree with you on many points you raise; short story or novel, some pieces were great others only confusing, I flipped back and forth trying to figure out who was who when, Dolly was likeable but her story tragic. I would disagree on the Powerpoint chapter – and can draw deep meaning from the pauses. Fits with your time theme and what we miss when we let time slip by us. This was not a fave but I think I had very high expectations.

    1. This is why I love blogging. I didn’t even consider the meaning of the pauses. I was just so taken aback by the structure that I didn’t even pause (pun intended) to think about it. Dolly’s story was tragic, but also a bit funny. I know, I am twisted to think that hot oil spilling down on a party is funny, but it seems sofar fetchedyet also possible. Plus, what happens with the General.. oh!

  2. A PPT used to tell a story, that sounds, wel, I don’t know, weird… maybe the writer should have written the book as a collection of short stories. disjointed novels are no fun…

    1. The PowerPoint thing was only for one chapter, but stuck out like a sore thumb. I agree with you. I think it would have been more widely accepted had it been marketed as a collection of short stories.

  3. I have been out of the loop on this one I think. The book is told in power point presentations…ugh…I don’t like those much..not sure that I would like it as a novel…is there other text to accompany the presentations?

    1. Just one chapter is a PowerPoint presentation. There is text on each slide, having to the do with musical pauses. It was not my favorite.

  4. I think I might have liked this one a bit more than you did, but you raise some interesting points about the narrative consistency. It was a really ambitious and interesting book, but the power point section was not really my favorite either. I think as a concept, it worked really well, but the content wasn’t all that riveting. Wonderful and detailed review today, Ti. I enjoyed getting your take on this one!

    1. It’s hard to gauge my like of this one because I really did like parts of it quite a bit, but as a whole, since it’s considered a novel by most, including the author, I feel as if it didn’t work all that well. Still glad I read it though. And you bring up a good point, had that PP chapter been about anything but musical pauses, I think it would have gone over better with me.

  5. I liked The Keep (many did not) but I loved this one. So many books nowadays just all run together for me, but this one stood out and made my brain buzz. It is a polarizing book. Ask ten people if they liked it and you will get ten different answers. The PowerPoint on audio I thought was brilliant.

    1. Really? I checked out the audio just to hear how the PP presentation was handled and it rubbed me the wrong way. That typing noise grated on me!

  6. The reviews of this book are pretty mixed, and a lot of them have said the same thing you did about it feeling disjointed. I think I’d still like to give it a try one day.

    1. I was just telling another blogger that it IS one of those books that you feel you have to read at some point. I am glad I read it. I also listened to some of it and I liked the audio better.

  7. I listened to the audiobook of this title, drawn to it of course because it’s the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner. The questions I had while listening were similar… am I listening to the right CD? How come none of the people appear in the last chapter? Is this a short story collection? etc. Unfortunately, I quit half way through, couldn’t finish it. So, I’m afraid I missed the Powerpoint presentation in audio format. After reading your review, I want to get the book, both versions, to see how they handle this PP chapter. Thanks for your review!

    1. I will save you the trouble! I borrowed the audio version to hear that PowerPoint chapter and they read it verbatim. Name of song… pause, 1 min, 8 seconds and then the reader paused…. there was as annoying typing sound in the background too, as if she was typing it out.

  8. I loved this one, but I think being able to read it in a single day helped. I also concur it’s a novel, and the last chapter absolutely convinced me. I’m sorry it didn’t totally work for you, but I’m glad you liked parts of it. I need to make time to read Egan’s backlist titles too!

  9. I admit I am having trouble drumming up enthusiasm about reading this book. I do want to read The Keep eventually though. I am glad you liked Goon Squad. Maybe someday it will call to me. It’s happened before. 🙂

  10. Greatly articulated review. Wow, you really put it out there… first I was like, naw, life is too short to try to like a book, but now I am curious to see what I would thing. Your review is thought provoking.

  11. Uh oh, I haven’t read many reviews that didn’t think this was the best book ever, LOL. But I have yet to read it (I started it once but had to read review books and never went back) so at least I’ll have more realistic expectations when I go into it! I sort of like novels made up of stories so I’m hoping I like it for that reason.

    1. Of my friends who took the time to read it, most said they loved parts of it. None said that they loved it. I do think it’s worth a read though because it’s different from what is currently out there.

  12. I hate the book but personally I love powerpoints but I’m not sure if I like Egan’s powerpoint. Although I must admit the meaning of pause was an inspiring one.

    1. You love PowerPoint presentations? LOL! You crack me up. I taught PowerPoint here at the university for years so I guess I am over the attraction. LOL!

      1. Oh.. you are winding me up now… Powerpoint is the best tool ever! I use it to draw sophisticated flowcharts! Don’t laugh!

  13. I disliked this book so much… I just didn’t appreciate it. Sorry it won such an important award but this seems to happen more than I like.

    The highlight for me was when the guy brought his fish to his old friends office and left it there.

    1. Mari’s reaction was exactly the reason we didn’t read it in book club. I’ll probably read it at some point but it certainly seems like one I’d have a hard time getting anyone to finish!

    1. I don’t think it’s for you! Structure aside, the story itself is different from what you currently read, but if you ever want to try something different, then give it a try!

  14. I agree that this is best read in one big read as I read it spaced out over a week or so and completely lost the common threads over and over again. In fact, I meant to reread it (and probably will) to fully appreciate it as I know I didn’t get it all the first time out.

  15. I’m listening to this now (at Dolly’s story), but have a print copy from the library, too – can’t imagine a Power Point presentation on audio! Am fully invested in the story, but waiting to see how it all pulls together. In awe of Egan’s creativity at the moment, but we’ll see where I end up.

  16. I haven’t read this book yet but I have it and am looking forward to it because it’s so creative (a chapter that’s a power-point presentation? Ha!) and because I’ve read so many varying opinions about this book. I’m looking frward to seeing how I find it. I’m also very much looking forward to the characters as they sound so interesting. Thank you for the advice/warning about the difficulty with putting the book down and picking it back up :o)
    Of course you’ve written another review that makes me wish I could sit down with the book right now and read it until I finish it.

    In one of your more recent Sunday Salon posts (I think) you said you had been reading a lot lately but hadn’t felt like writing reviews at the time…I’m guessing you started writing them and I just wanted to say that I’ve been enjoying your reviews the last couple of weeks and, thanks to you my tbr list is growing!

    1. My computer is still on the outs at home so if I write anything, it has to be done here before work and with going to the gym, that was difficult to do. However, I AM getting back into the swing of things, trying to write stuff on my lunch breaks. I am finding it hard to recall details though as some of the books I’ve read so long ago. I still have at least 6 to do in order to feel caught-up.

  17. I did give this one a try last year, but boy, did I fail. I couldn’t quite see where it was headed, though I suspect reading it on my mobile screen had something to do with that. I’m hoping to try it once more when I have sufficiently forgotten about the first experience.

    1. On your mobile screen?? I do that sometimes but I could never read an entire book that way. Yep, that probably had something to do with it.

  18. Put me in with the people who thought A Visit from the Goon Squad was an amazing book. My theory is you have to be a certain age (approaching 50) to really like it — younger, you don’t get the poignancy of the scenes, and older, you don’t get how people could have behaved like that! I wasn’t that into music growing up, though, so I think I probably missed a lot of musical references.

    1. Interesting comment regarding age. You’re probably right. I am a forty-something so I liked much of it, but I think I missed where it all came together because for me, it didn’t really. Somehow, that didn’t affect my enjoyment though.

  19. Hi Ti, thanks for your review … & everyone’s comments. I think I will steer clear of “Goon Squad” for now — because life is short and there’s too many enjoyable books to read. Judging from the reviews, it doesn’t sound like a book I want to spend a lot of time deciphering. The structure alone might drive me a bit nuts.

    1. Probably a good idea. Right now I am reading another book where the structure and okay, the story are at odds with each other. I am really trying to get through it because the characters are interesting, but it’s not coming together for me and I have about a quarter of it left to read. BTW, it’s The Orphan Master’s Son in case you were wondering.

  20. Hi, Ti! Great post! I really love this book – its one of my favorites! I think it really shows what a talented writer can do with words (and power point) – which is to transport the reader and keep them captivated for a period of time. I just fell in love with this book. I felt like I hadn’t really read anything wonderful in so long and then Goon Squad came along and well, I felt like I was discovering reading again for the first time. it just really opened my eyes to what excellent writing is – kind of like how I felt when I first read Vonnegut and Rhys. I’m glad you reviewed – you got me thinking about it again 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s