Egan – A Visit From the Goon Squad

3 Oct

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)

Time is a goon…and so is this novel.

Whatever happened to the conventional novel as opposed to the contemporary novel-ty novel?  I’m all for creativity and trying for something new, but a chapter done in Powerpoint?  What’s next…Chapter 14 is displayed at night in the lit windows of a Manhattan skyscraper (hmm…maybe I’m on to something).  I am getting a little tired of contemporary literature that lets the story/characters take a back seat to Creative Writing 101 toying.

The novel is not awful.  It’s just not great.  There were a number of characters that I liked, namely Sasha.  There were also a number of characters (Lou, Alice, Scotty, Dolly, Alex, Uncle Teddy, Sasha’s kids, Jules, Kitty) that I didn’t give a shit about, and realistically, why would I?  The concept is admittedly interesting.  We are told a story from a variety of different angles in order to be able to develop a panoramic (if not 360 degree) view of the two main characters: Sasha and Bennie Salazar.  However, these vignettes from multiple authors and vantage points often just confuse the reader from a chronological standpoint and introduce them to a plethora of superfluous characters.  I do not like having to spend five minutes at the beginning of every chapter trying to determine: 1) at what point in time are these events taking place, and 2) who these characters are and why am I being introduced to them.

I’m not saying that every novel has to be linear from a chronological standpoint; I would just appreciate a reason for the story not having a more coherent structure.  It makes sense when Pynchon does it because the whole point is to be lost and scared.  “A Visit…” is a story about growing up and we as readers get to see snapshots of Sasha as a little girl in Wisconsin, Sasha as a rebellious young adult in Naples, Sasha in college, Sasha as a kleptomaniacal NYC secretary, Sasha as a mom in the Midwest.  So why shuffle the cards?

The book reads more like a collection of short stories that can’t really stand on their own.  I thought of the Glass family from Salinger’s Franny & Zooey, Nine Stories and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.  In this series of novellas and short stories, the reader is presented with a number of tales about the Glass family from several different narrators.  The difference between Salinger’s work and Egan’s is that each of those novellas and short stories could stand on their own whereas Egan chose to take what should have been short stories and remove their thematic autonomy, causing them to be interdependent.

I applaud Egan for some of her character development and glimmers of word-choice/metaphorical genius, but ultimately the book sort of pissed me off.  And punk rock??  If Egan was trying so damn hard to be post-modern, one would think post-punk would have been a better choice.

Rating: **1/2

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