Every now and then I fall down a media hole, which is where I’ve been the last week or so, consumed by the American election and Hurricane Sandy. (When I wasn’t consumed with getting to a writing retreat in upstate New York, writing, or getting home before the hurricane struck and shut down the airports.)
But when not otherwise occupied, one of my recent good decisions was to read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011 .
I’m not sure why I picked it up initially–reading prize-winning novels can feel more like swallowing medicine than recreation–but the first chapter begins in a contemporary and accessible voice, and once I began, there was no option but to finish.
Peeps, if you write, I’d highly recommend this book. Even if you don’t, but are open to literary or mainstream fiction, I’d highly recommend this book.
It’s been termed a novel, and does flesh out full character arcs in most cases, but in fact it’s a series of short stories linked through geography, theme, character, and plot points.
The characterization is incredible. The language is precise. The point of view varies from chapter to chapter, so that you bounce from third person past to first person present, to an entire chapter told through a Powerpoint presentation. From a technical perspective, it’s bold and varied, and it’s competent in each execution.
If Cheryl Strayed were to read this book, I imagine her saying something like, “This is a motherfucking MFA in a book-sized package.”
Where it really excels, though, is in the piercing psychological insights.
I’ve seen A Visit from the Goon Squad described as a discussion of what it means to grow up and age in the digital era. That’s accurate. I think it would hold particular meaning for anyone who’s ever wondered if their best days are past, and who’s been held hostage by the Goon Squad of time. In other words, I don’t think a young writer could have composed this, and you might need to be thirty-five plus to really get it.
Here’s a small quote, which seems particularly poignant after Hurricane Sandy, and if you’re one of the 49% of America that was disappointed by last night’s results.
Jules put his arm around her. “If you’d asked me this morning, I would have said we were finished,” he said. “All of us, the whole country–the fucking world. But now I feel the opposite.”
Stephanie knew. She could practically hear the hope sluicing through her brother. “So what’s the answer?” she asked.
“Sure, everything is ending,” Jules said, “but not yet.”
Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad? What did you think. If not, do you tend to read prize-winning novels? If so, which would you recommend?
ETA: I’ve got a major case of the blushes right now, Zesties: a repeated typo in my tags, title and post. Thanks to Christi Craig for proofing for me. Don’t know if it was my autocorrect or my fingers at fault, but regardless, my responsibility!