Hello! (And a Vigorous Book Recommendation for Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad)

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?

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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!



14 thoughts on “Hello! (And a Vigorous Book Recommendation for Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad)

  1. Hello. 🙂 Haven’t read it, and normally not inclined toward prize-winners, to thanks for the recommendation. Can you practically hear the hope sluicing through me from up there in The Great White North? 😉

  2. I often feel the same about Pulitzer Prize winners, but this year had the pleasure of reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, a wonderfully crazy, quirky book that I highly recommend and would be right up your alley.

    And as I’m currently in the midst of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, her bad ass voice is right in my ear. 🙂

  3. I haven’t read it, Jan, but if you like it I’m adding it to my list. I tend to shy away from big prize-winning books, at least until they’ve been out for a little bit. But Strayed is on my list for this year too.

    1. I’ll be curious if you enjoy it, Liz. Because of the short time spent with each character, it’s less emotional than a true novel. Satisfying in a different way, though, with lots of social commentary.

  4. Goon Squad is one of my favorite books ever, for many of the reasons you mention here. Technically, it’s brilliant. The connections Egan makes between each section are so deft, I have trouble even imagining how she plotted it out. I definitely gush over this book. So glad you liked it too!

    1. I bet while you were gushing you spelled it properly though, didn’t you, Lisa? 😉

      It’s definitely one I’ll reread because it’s so dazzling. Oh to have those chops.

  5. Jan,
    Loved that book. Jennifer Egan broke all the rules of fiction writing, yet she produced a masterpiece. For me the theme was in the brilliant analogy she drew between the idealism and hope embodied in rock and roll music and the cynicism and challenges associated with growing old. I was riveted by this book and in awe of her talents as a writer.

    1. That’s a fascinating point about the choice to use rock and roll as a motif. Music obviously plays an important role in the book, but you’re right; if the common link had been literature or automobile racing, it wouldn’t have had the same punch. Interesting, CG. Thanks for commenting.

    1. I’m not totally certain it would be to your taste, Becke. I found it fascinating but not necessarily entertaining, if that makes sense. If you read it, would love to know what you think.

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