There’s applause all around for Jennifer Egan‘s recent book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, and for good reason: it’s excellent. But it’s not a book for somebody who wants an easy read. If you’re in the mood for a cozy, a legal thriller, a bodice-ripper, chick lit – in fact, almost any kind of popular book written to formula – Goon Squad‘s not for you.
I didn’t realize, when starting to read the book just after Christmas, that it was a series of interwoven short stories. That’s because I don’t read the jacket blurbs. They usually give away way too much info.
The stories feature overlapping characters and move backwards and forwards in time. The first story, Found Objects, features Sasha. Sasha is attractive, well-educated, successful, and a kleptomaniac. I got to know Sasha pretty well in Found Object’s 14 pages. I liked her. I worried about her.
I expected the next chapter to be more Sasha. And it sort of is. The story, The Gold Cure, features Sasha’s boss, Bennie. Bennie is kind of an unusual guy, a former music wunderkind now doing not-so-well, with a bizarre habit of eating gold flakes. Sasha’s in there, but she’s not the focus, and I soon found myself sucked into Bennie’s life. I liked him. I worried about him, too. He’s kind of a screw-up. Nothing ever seems to go quite right.
And that’s how it goes with A Visit to the Goon Squad. You just get to know one person, get into their head, and it’s time to move on. The book is like a really excellent box of chocolates. The stories are all good, they’re all interesting, but they’re good and interesting in different ways. Several characters show up in more than one story, often to heart-breaking effect.
Not to be missed is the penultimate story, Great Rock and Roll Pauses, a tale told in PowerPoint, ostensibly by Alison Blake. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before – the very clear voice of a teenage girl, talking about her dysfunctional but still loving family, in a series of PowerPoint slides. It’s touching, true and funny. And, of course, wildly imaginative.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is the kind of book that makes me envy the author. Not for her success, but for her sheer talent. She’s amazing.