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Amber Paulen

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad

17 May 2011


This is one of those books that when I’ve finished I want to pick it up again to pick it apart. With A Visit From the Goon Squad I’m not as impressed with the brilliance of the whole as with the brilliance of its disparate parts. The book is like a quilt and I’m intrigued that the different patterns and colors can blend seamlessly together to appear complete. Because A Visit From the Goon Squad should read like a collection of short stories, but it doesn’t. And no chapter can stand alone.

Obviously there is the continuity of themes and characters: themes: time and music; characters: Bennie and Sasha. Chapters wrap around and retract, come up against then flee, weave between or run straight at one of those four or all four at once. And as each story, or chapter, took me deeper into its own expostulation of those themes and characters, I was taken deeper into the book as a whole. And it seemed to happen to me, without the realization of what was going on. Perhaps this is also due to me reading the book so quickly.

The two themes—time and music—come most poignantly together in the chapter of powerpoint slides. I didn’t especially enjoy the powerpoint slides, I prefer words and lovely sentences (at which Jennifer Egan excels). And even this chapter, without me knowing it, made itself felt and understood and the idea of pauses during a song was conveyed in a way that words-only might not have achieved.

The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does end, because every song ends, obviously and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.

A musical pause, then, is a way to cheat time, momentarily, it is a premonition of the end from which each character returns. The self-destruction waged, the draining of hope, is reinvigorated again in another chapter. This cyclic way of tracing past and future was one of my favorite things about the book. In this way, Egan escapes the obvious: her characters continue.

Here’s another reference to music and art that Egan made well in the beginning, and endeared me quickly to her book:

But Bennie knew that what he was bringing into the world was shit. Too clear, too clean. The problem was precision, perfection: the problem was digitization, which sucked the life out of everything that got smeared through its microscopic mesh. Film, photography, music: dead. An aesthetic holocaust! Bennie knew better than to say this stuff aloud.

The shiny newness of A Visit From the Goon Squad is counteracted by its “muddiness,” the madness of so many different characters and voices by its method of composition. It’s a good book, entertaining, thought provoking and I enjoyed it.



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