A Visit from the Goon Squad
By Jennifer Egan
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780307477477, March 2011, 352pp.)
The Short of It:
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!
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