Linked Stories, Linked Lives
Jennifer Egan’s acclaimed A Visit From the Goon Squad releases in paperback on the 22nd of this month. It’s a “Must Read” for any generation—but Boomers will especially be nostalgic.
Summary: Egan takes us on a thrill ride—not only back in time and forward into the future—from California to Africa to New York—but also inside our own hearts and minds. Do you remember the first time you heard edgy raw talent? Do remember how fresh it sounded and how alive it made you feel? Egan brings us back to that place and time of innocence and naiveté—yet, at the same time she treats us as smart, sophisticated readers. Through 16 loosely linked stories, we follow “friends of friends” (sort-of like FaceBook) and family of Bennie, a record producer, and his one-time assistant, Sasha, through their world of the music business, back to high-school and college, forward to families and kids. Although there is no traditional story arc, we accompany these unique and flawed characters through vignettes of their lives—with a speculative ending that is not too far removed from today’s technology and social connections.
Characters: In addition to Bennie and Sasha, we meet Alex, Alison, Bosco, Dolly, Jocelyn, Jules, Lou, Rhea, Rob, Scotty, Stephanie, Ted and others. But rather than a harmonic blending of voices as some ensemble novels employ—they each take their individual turn as the solo star at the mic.
Structure: These imperfect and complicated characters not only have unique voices, but each tells his or her own story of angst and humor in a unique way—first, second (yes—that was not a typo) and third person—as a narrative, a celebrity interview, and even as a PowerPoint slide show. This latter is one of my favorites—written by Alison, Sasha’s daughter, who tells her family story, “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.” The staccato feeling that Allison describes in these musical pauses mirrors the energy and vibrancy that the author brings to her novel through the structure of these seemingly random stops and stops of the individual stories. But don’t get me wrong—even with the sporadic rhythm—the stories hang together as a whole to result in a witty, sarcastic, and at times poignant novel that will haunt you long after you’ve read it.
Themes: Although her stories are distinctly post-modern, Egan’s themes are decidedly timeless and universal: Ageing, Life Changes, Hopes and Fears, Identity and Belonging; Balancing Success with your Moral Values—but the strongest theme throughout is Relationships.
Why Book Clubs Will Love it: There is much fodder for book club conversation: the characters, the structure, the themes…If your club doesn’t mind a book that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat little bow at the end—you will be glad you went along for the ride!
Pick up ‘Goon Squad’ on the 22nd in paperback!
Links and Details:
Knopf, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0307592835