Review by John for: A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ by Jennifer Egan
A complex time-jumping novel following the intertwined lives of a record executive, a woman he employs, and various people they have encountered throughout their lives.
Synopsys: Bennie Salazar is an aging former punk rocker and record executive whose career has cratered. Sasha is a troubled young kleptomaniac who worked for him for many years and who he came to rely on. The book goes back and forth in time, delving into aspects of their lives and the lives of significant people that they have interacted with over the years – with each chapter written from the perspective of a different person.
John’s Thoughts: It’s a complex story for sure, and the reader is constantly challenged to keep connecting the dots and to grasp the various relationships, interconnected story threads and timelines. Indeed, it borders on being a collection of short stories rather than being one coherent novel. But within this complexity, Egan has created some really interesting (and mostly flawed) characters, and it all just about hangs together.
The writing styles in the individual chapters vary too, with the most extreme example being a teenager who writes in PowerPoint slides. Actually this worked really well and was one of my favorite chapters, being a touching description of the somewhat strained dynamics of a family with an autistic son.
If there is an overarching theme, it seems to be the impact of time and aging on relationships and behavior, with all of the key characters undergoing dramatic changes as the timeline progresses. Egan is trying to achieve an awful lot within a fairly short novel and I can’t help feeling that she’s trying to be just a bit too clever for her own good.
Call me a traditionalist, but I kind of wish she’d reduced the scope of the plot a bit and focused more on a tighter cast of the main characters. There are lots of connections and plot transitions that feel underdeveloped that I’d liked to have read about in more depth. But clearly she has made some conscious decisions about the style of the book and the structure of the storyline, and I guess my views are in the minority as the book has won a variety of awards.
Overall I did enjoy the read, and it was certainly out of the ordinary compared with everything else I’ve read recently - I guess that was Egan’s objective. I’d rate it 3.5 stars.
The top cover picture is for the paperback edition in the US and Canada, the blue cover is of the hardbound, and the orange is for the paperback in the UK.
John had this one on his pile next to the bed but decided to read it right away due Egan winning the Pulitzer Prize for it last week. I was hoping that this book would be his first 5 star review. It will be interesting to see which book it will be.
As always he will be answering all comments on his review, so don’t forget to click the follow up box to get his reply.