Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD

A_Visit_From_the_Goon_SquadHello Internet!

My head hurts, in that abysmal and sourceless way that it sometimes does, especially in the late summer. But, other than that, life is pretty good. I’ve been reading many books. Which is a relief to me, because there’ve been points this summer and this year where I wasn’t particularly assiduous in my reading. For instance, I know the book is long and dry, but it really shouldn’t take three weeks to read Capital in the 21st Century.

Lately, I’ve been reading Jennifer Egan’s Visit From The Goon Squad. And I love it. The book is so purely and simply good that I’m a bit shocked it won the Pulitzer Prize. I mean, it just doesn’t have that hooky thing to it that leaps out at you. It’s just a bunch of short stories, spanning three generations, about a coterie of upper-middle-class people who’re loosely bound by friendship and family. It has a certain milieu—the more fashionable parts of New York and Los Angeles–and some recurring themes, but nothing that really leaps out at you and makes you think, “Alright, this is why this book is special.”

Nor is it well-written in the flashy sort of way that, for instance, a book like Cormac McCarthy or Jonathan Franzen is well-written. It’s more well-written in the mode of V.S. Naipaul: simple, effective sentences.

So I’m at a loss to explain how and why it rose to the top of the pile, except that Jennifer Egan has been around for awhile and people knew who she was and it felt like it was her turn or something.

However, I’m glad that it did! The book is undeniably worthy. I’m enjoying it immensely. The stories are so simple and they put almost zero weight onto their endings. There’s some sort of change that happens in them, but they don’t hit you with the change right at the end. Instead, they let events speak for themselves. The way that they move back and forth through time is also fantastic. For instance, the very first story is being told by a compulsive shoplifter to her therapist and it veers effortlessly between the frame and the narrative. Another story, narrated by the 23 year old girlfriend of a 40+ year old record executive who’s taking her and his two kids on a safari, both skips ahead of the main narrative and flashes back in time in a really wonderful way, especially towards the end of the story, when it starts to shudder out of control and we see past and future in one big jumble.

I also shouldn’t end this blog post without commenting on the two stories that most stand out, which are the two that are set in the near future. The first is a story told in a series of powerpoint slides (the implication is that in the near future, schools teach kids eschew continuous prose and, instead, to write slide decks), and the second is a story about a record producer who engages in an elaborate viral marketing campaign in order to sell music to preverbal toddlers. Both were extremely good…as capstones to the themes of the novel. However, they didn’t interest me as much in themselves.

Only real downside is that it’s another book, a la The Privileges and The Interestings and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P and The Goldfinch and Friendship and every other contemporary novel I’ve read in the last year, about terrible upper-middle-class New Yorkers. But I enjoy that. Those are the people that I know and like and am comfortable with.