A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersec...

Title:A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0307592839
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:288 pages

A Visit from the Goon Squad Reviews

  • Patrick Brown

    Spoiler alert: You will get old. You will die. Things will never be like they are right now. And yet, how things are right now will determine how they are in the future. This is so.

    The "goon" in the title of this book is time. It opens with a quote from Proust, the poet laureate of memory, about how we cannot recapture the people we were in past the places where we were those people, but rather that those people exist within us, always. And that, it seems to me, is more or less the book, in a nu

    Spoiler alert: You will get old. You will die. Things will never be like they are right now. And yet, how things are right now will determine how they are in the future. This is so.

    The "goon" in the title of this book is time. It opens with a quote from Proust, the poet laureate of memory, about how we cannot recapture the people we were in past the places where we were those people, but rather that those people exist within us, always. And that, it seems to me, is more or less the book, in a nutshell. But, oh, how it gets there. How the story unfolds -- stories, really -- is breathtaking. This the best book I've read this year.

    A collection of narratives -- they aren't really stories -- centered around various record industry denizens -- an aging producer, his assistant, her college best friend, the producer's mentor, his wife's brother, a publicist, etc. -- Goon Squad is a novel about lives. It opens with Sasha, the beautiful, troubled assistant to record producer Bennie Salazar -- and continues on through a host of characters who knew them. And knew is the word here, for the lesson of the book seems to be that we are not the same people we were before. Those people are dead, and yet the people we all became -- the sagging, sad, tired, knowing people we are now -- those people are inextricably tied to the people we were. We are simultaneously incapable of recovering what was lost and yet bound to know what it is that we're missing.

    Does this sound like the book is horribly, horribly sad? It isn't. It's beautiful and clever and very smart, and, okay, a little bit heartbreaking. One of my favorite aspects of the book is how it deals with technology. Facebook, in the novel, is a kind of memory, excavating lost lives from the ether, reconnecting people with the people they were before...or at least the people they knew before. And in the end, it's a burst of horrible, relentless technology that seems to save the music business. And one of the most powerful chapters of the book is told in powerpoint (To wrench soul from the teeth of a Microsoft product is truly a feat unto itself). In fact, this book may be one of the most subtly speculative works of fiction I've read. It presents a future near enough to include all of us, close enough to be recognizable, and still strangely different from where we are today.

    I realize this review dances around the book. It tells you what the book is about without really telling much of what the story is. And that's because the story of the book wouldn't sound like much on its own: Some people grow up. They work in the music business. Their friends die, and then so does their business. But those people keep going. They have lives and love affairs and children. They make new friends and rediscover people they assumed were dead. Their lives cross with one another in myriad ways. And then they cross again. I keep returning, again and again to the section on Jocelyn, a girl who ran away from home to be with a record producer, a man who spit her out almost before he was done chewing her up. The passage is on page 65, and it's one of several haunting paragraphs in Jocelyn's section:

    "We stand there, quiet. My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?"

    This book, it ambushed me.

  • Greg

    This is the best book

    that has a whole chapter done in power point.

    I hate power point. I think it was invented by the devil and given to humanity to make us even dumber than we are now. I think teachers who use power point should be hog-tied by their intestines and then sodomized by Mary Lou Retton (and probably people in the corporate world too, but I don't know about that first hand, but I'm sure they deserve even worse). I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate power poi

    This is the best book

    that has a whole chapter done in power point.

    I hate power point. I think it was invented by the devil and given to humanity to make us even dumber than we are now. I think teachers who use power point should be hog-tied by their intestines and then sodomized by Mary Lou Retton (and probably people in the corporate world too, but I don't know about that first hand, but I'm sure they deserve even worse). I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate power point, but Jennifer Egan can do a whole book in power point and I'd it would probably be more effective than most normal novelists are with whole pages filled with words at their disposal.

    Back in November 2009 I proclaimed the ARC of Jonathan Dee's

    the best novel of 2010. There are a few books that have come out that I haven't read yet, but which

    be better (

    is one that I think might) but I now know that this book

    just as good, if not better, than Dee's.

    This book has a) a lame cover, b) a lame jacket description, c) a chapter kind of poking fun (jesting?) at DFW's writing style, and d) a chapter written in power point; but still with all of these apparent negatives the book is awesome.

    I'm not going to try to sell you on the book. Coming from a punk background I know that too many people liking something inherently diminishes the enjoyment one can get out of something. Since Jennifer Egan is already a fairly popular author, and me already being late to the game with liking her (for years I thought she was Janet Fitch, I knew they were different people, but I thought they were synonymous with each other) I can't risk you or anyone else that hasn't already read her finding out how great she is and stealing some of my precious enjoyment from me (for example it's a scientific fact that people who listened to Green Day when they were on Lookout! in 1993 enjoyed 97% more than they enjoyed them 12 months later in 1994 when everyone liked them. The enjoyment ratio flew way down and the music essentially didn't change. There is only so much enjoyment in the world to split up, fortunately there is an infinite amount of pain and sorrow so we can all partake in that).

    Anyway, now that I've gotten that pesky talking about the book out of the way. Let us turn to one of the points in the power point chapter. For those of you who haven't read the book, and will not read the book and steal my enjoyment from me; the chapter deals with a family. The daughter of the family is the narrator, or constructor of a power-point journal. Her younger brother is semi-autistic. He has a thing for silence in music. Pauses. He makes loops of the different silences, he graphs them for duration and effect. And there is a fairly interesting description of different pauses in the history of rock music, but with two of my favorite examples left out, and with one artist who made too much use of them, but who used them effectively also left out.

    One. The best use of the pause in music (well in punk music) is in the Sex Pistols song "Bodies". That NOFX is mentioned in the chapter and "Bodies" isn't, is well a travesty. While it's not as surprising a false-ending as "Please Play This Song on the Radio" or as quirky / funny / jokey, it is more effective for punk pathos. I read once in a book (I think it was

    ) that the sound of the Sex Pistol's imploding was captured at the end of "Belsen was a Gas" during their last show (in my reality they never re-formed, so we are talking 1978 here), when there was just silence for a second. That silence was preceded by the one in "Bodies" though where all of the fury was released in a string of almost nonsensical uses of the word fuck.

    Two. Sunny Day Real Estate, "Seven". Here the use of short almost micro pauses and one slightly longer pause work to create a expectation, excitement and anxiety. One could argue that there are not pauses in this song, but that argument is wrong. Maybe it wouldn't fit in the dynamic of the chapter because it would be very difficult to capture the pauses to sample them. More mention should be made of the first Sunny Day Real Estate album.

    Three. Matthew Sweet. The man made an art out of the false-ending. He deserved to be mentioned in a chapter dealing strongly with pauses and silence in rock songs. I'm not a huge fan, but he should be given a mention.

    Hopefully this aside has convinced you to not read this book and allow me to enjoy it more than if you stole some of my pleasure.

  • karen

    hell's bells. believe this hype.

    this book is the saddest, truest, wisest book i have ever read in a single day. which is not to belittle it - my tear-assing through it is because i did not want to stop reading it and resented any interruption that tried to get in my way. i am someone who plans things. i have timetables in my head - i have to, in order to get everything done. nothing important, just "at 8:00 i will untangle my necklaces while i watch my netflix. at 10:00, i will fold my laundry a

    hell's bells. believe this hype.

    this book is the saddest, truest, wisest book i have ever read in a single day. which is not to belittle it - my tear-assing through it is because i did not want to stop reading it and resented any interruption that tried to get in my way. i am someone who plans things. i have timetables in my head - i have to, in order to get everything done. nothing important, just "at 8:00 i will untangle my necklaces while i watch my netflix. at 10:00, i will fold my laundry and then pay bills, etc etc. this book ruined all of my good intentions. i read straight through one mental time-allotment after another, leaving dishes unwashed and e-mails unanswered. and i did not care one bit.

    as i read, i kept thinking, "this is exactly right - this woman

    it, this is just what i was talking about the other day." because karen has been doing a little bit of dwelling lately, and this book really captured so many universals of youth, adulthood ...and the rest. she knows just how to twist the knife.

    everyone has been praising this book since it came out, but all i knew going into it was that there was a powerpoint chapter and a dfw chapter (which i had already read, at greg's command, months ago). i didn't even know they were stories that combined to show facets of people's lives in different times and places and stages and manifestations. i didn't know who would attain closure and who would fade away, i just thought it was another book by the lady who wrote

    .

    i had read

    years ago and had been unimpressed, and then i start hearing all this talk about

    and how it is this incredible book, but i looked at the cover and i thought - "no, thank you".i am pretty sure i bought

    , but it got sucked into one of the stacks here, never to resurface. but then this comes out and greg and tom fuller are praising it to the heavens, and then tom

    me his copy to have forever, so i pretty much have to read it. i do not disobey my work-dad.

    and as always, father knows best...

    i have never seen

    because "they" tell me it is retarded, but i did see

    and

    and

    and

    and all of those others - disjointed narratives where one thing affects another thing and it's all

    , man... (

    is the only one you need to see from the above list), but how often does it really work, and how often is it just flashy storytelling to compensate for lack of a true plot??

    it's the same in the litworld. i thought michael cunningham's

    did it really well, and this - well, this makes it work perfectly. because it is less about the impact an action has upon others than having the opportunity to understand a character's motivations from witnessing snapshot-chapters from different periods and the -oh god not again - it is like a sneeze - zeitgeist of the pop cultural (punk rock-ical) and historical climates of these poor broken characters.

    but elizabeth - it is not a downer!! it is not one of my "downer books". it is more... gently nostalgic. and bewildered. definitely bewildered.

    "she was thinking of the old days, as she and bennie now called them - not just pre-crandale but premarriage, preparenthood, pre-money, pre-hard drug renunciation, preresponsibility of any kind, when they were still kicking around the lower east side with bosco, going to bed after sunrise, turning up at strangers' apartments, having sex in quasi-public, engaging in daring acts that had more than once included (for her) shooting heroin, because none of it was serious. they were young and lucky and strong - what did they have to worry about?? if they didn't like the result, they could go back and start again."

    i mean - gutpunch.this kind of blithe optimism is exactly what touched me when i was reading

    . remember being indestructible?? i sure do.

    this is also one of the few works where 9/11 is used tastefully and more or less subtly, and the absence of the buildings is worked very well into the pervasive loss that holds this book together.

    the NYU chapter is greg's favorite, and it is both heartbreaking on its own and bittersweet for me because it could have very easily been me. i remember sunwarmed fire escapes between classes and bobst and for me it was mamoun's falafel, but regardless. it was both familiar and far away. i liked the naples chapter best, because for me it is storytelling 101 - a perfect story and the last line kills me because "muttered" is the best possible word there, and it complicates what could have been a very easy and pat ending.

    jennifer egan i luvs you.

  • Jeanette

    Um, this is just BAAAAAAD. Bold-face, capital-letters

    . Absolutely awful!

    What.....were.....they.....thinking????? Oh, I forgot, they weren't!

    When did the Pulitzer become the Puke-litzer? I'll never again trust that prize designation except with books from a long time ago.

    Don't be fooled by the first chapter, which is not too bad. Sort of an interesting start, about a kleptomaniac aging punk rock chick. After that, FORGET IT! Dumpster filler.

    A lot of people make a big mention of the PowerPo

    Um, this is just BAAAAAAD. Bold-face, capital-letters

    . Absolutely awful!

    What.....were.....they.....thinking????? Oh, I forgot, they weren't!

    When did the Pulitzer become the Puke-litzer? I'll never again trust that prize designation except with books from a long time ago.

    Don't be fooled by the first chapter, which is not too bad. Sort of an interesting start, about a kleptomaniac aging punk rock chick. After that, FORGET IT! Dumpster filler.

    A lot of people make a big mention of the PowerPoint section of the book. Cool gimmick, right? But as far as I'm concerned, there's too much emphasis in the book on (cough cough) power "points" in general, if ya know what I mean. Left a bad taste in my mouth, and in the mouths of some of the characters, no doubt.

    So aside from the gamahuche and other potency obsessions, there's a lot of cocaine and 'ludes and really bad punk rock song lyrics. Oh, and a lot of really annoying, unlikeable characters who seem to substitute therapy for actually getting on with their lives.

    I wouldn't have been so hard on this book had it not been given such a prestigious award. I never would have even tried to read it if not for the Pulitzer. Since when did gimmicky books with no substance merit consideration for literary awards? Was this really the best they had to choose from? I doubt it. I'm now fully convinced that the Pulitzer Prize has become a purely political handout dropped into some lucky writer's trick-or-treat bag.

  • K.D. Absolutely

    I attended a novel-writing workshop last week and one of the things that I took home with me was:

    I have a feeling, and I could be wrong on this since I am just a paying reader, that Jennifer Egan wrote this novel

    mainly to impress. Well, it won the nod of the Pulitzer jurors so the trick worked!

    Each of the 13 chapters is told in different points of view mostly by people who the two main protagonists,

    the gold-eating reco

    I attended a novel-writing workshop last week and one of the things that I took home with me was:

    I have a feeling, and I could be wrong on this since I am just a paying reader, that Jennifer Egan wrote this novel

    mainly to impress. Well, it won the nod of the Pulitzer jurors so the trick worked!

    Each of the 13 chapters is told in different points of view mostly by people who the two main protagonists,

    the gold-eating record producer and his kleptomaniac assistant

    interact with in the different parts of their lives and in the different locales: San Francisco, New York, Africa, Italy, etc. The narration is not chronological; it jumps from one time frame to another and it made my reading quite a struggle. It talks about punk and rock music and bands that I have not heard of maybe because I am not an American and not really into those music genres.

    The most-talked about Powerpoint presentation seemed to be a refreshing way to tell a story and it provided a break or a pause, that seems to me as the main message of that chapter, from the usual plain narrative. My only comment is that the slides look precise in delivering the messages that they want to impart when in fact, they should have been done by the 12-y/o

    the daughter of the middle-age Sasha. They would have been more interesting and "realistic" if there are illustrations or hand drawings done by a 12-y/o rather than Venn Diagrams, Fishbone Analysis, Cause-Effect, Bubble Charts, etc. Though the slides look neat, they felt contrived if not overdone.

    The main theme of

    is subtly imparted and is the one of the strong points of this book. Also, the frequent incorporation of strong brother-sister relationships rather than the usual child-parent, husband-wife, friends, etc. is also noteworthy. Egan is very good at delivering her message via her characters. She does not state the obvious but she lets her readers figure out the lessons by themselves through the events and how her characters react to those and how they interact with each other.

    Having said that, the story itself could have gotten at least 4 stars from me. However, Egan made the reading of this novel difficult with the multiple points of view and time frame. I have no problem with her different locales and narrative styles.

    This is

    a criticism but just a matter of personal preference. Maybe this is the reason why I like Biographies and Memoirs. I normally prefer stories that are focused on a single character from page 1 to the last page as it is like getting to know somebody from head to toe. I hate shifting narratives about several characters especially if done abruptly and too frequently. Reading all the 13 chapters of this book is like reading 13 short stories and while reading you have to figure out how one or two of the characters relate to the previous. Not only you have to spot them but also think of their age relative to the previous chapter. Then you have to go back and search what happened to that character in the last chapter where he/she appeared. A book this thick normally takes me only 2-4 days to finish but this one took me full (drop all the other currently-reading books) 7 days! When I read I normally become attach to my characters and it is just painful if in every 10 or so pages there are new ones that you have to meet and read about and if the character that you met and liked in the previous chapter reappears, you have to figure out what is his/her age and who are those people around him/her.

    ***SPOILER ALERT***

    The last chapter brings back the character of

    Sasha's boyfriend, who only appeared in the very first chapter. This style reminded me of the circular narrative flow of

    , David Mitchell's masterpiece, that is one of the most unforgettable reads that I so far had this year (4 stars). Mitchell also used those styles (multiple POVs, shifting narrative, different (in fact, outrageously different) time frames and different set of characters. I even read some of the chapters with a huge Lexicon dictionary by my side, something that I normally hate - my learn-a-word-a-day-stage is now so yesteryears - but it was worth the trouble in the case of

    ***SPOILER ENDS***

    I just did not feel the same way with

    Part of the problem, I think, is that there is no character here that is likeable nor a character I can empathize with. It could be a cultural thing, e.g., eating gold flakes, klepto, fish as a gift, etc. though. But I just felt that all of the characters seem to be too distant and this book, overall, just alienated me.

    I am not rating this with 1-star though. I still liked the novel's universal message and the use of the Powerpoint. Two saving graces of this novel, in my opinion.


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