Tuesday, October 5, 2010

book review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon SquadThe backstory: I heard Jennifer Egan speak at Book Expo America in May, and I was fascinated to hear about her writing process. She writes fiction in longhand and non-fiction on the computer. (A Visit from the Goon Squad has gone on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and be longlisted for the Orange Prize.)

The basics: A Visit from the Goon Squad is the story of Bennie Salazar, a record executive, and Sasha, his troubled young assistant. Truthfully, though, there is nothing basic about this novel, and no brief synopsis can begin to express its scope.

My thoughts: This book pulled me out of my mediocre reading slump. It captivated me from the first sentence: "It began in the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel." The first chapter introduces us to Sasha, and the humor and wit of Egan's writing is entrancing:
"Coz liked the couch, he'd told her, because it relieved them both of the burden of eye contact. 'You don't like eye contact?' Sasha had asked. It seemed like a weird thing for a therapist to admit. 'I find it tiring,' he'd said. 'This way, we can both look where we want.'
Egan's writing is both literary and accessible. The novel builds on both its characters and its writing; it's utterly masterful. I could not put it down during the day I read it, but I read slowly and savored each word and section. As I first began the novel, I thought it was interconnected stories. As I read more, however, I agreed with the book jacket: it's "interlocking narratives." It has the narrative voice of a novel, even as it's narrator changes and time jumps forward and backward.

I was intrigued about the chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation before I started the novel, and as I was falling in love with it, I hoped it would live up to my expectations. It exceeded them. While the PowerPoint chapter was my second favorite, it was able to be because of the sections that came before it. My eventual favorite was the novel's last chapter, which should convince any skeptic holdouts A Visit from the Goon Squad is indeed a novel.

The verdict: Although difficult to describe, this novel is easy to love. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, short stories and good narratives. A Visit from the Goon Squad is sure to be a contender for literary awards. I hope to see it among the nominees for the National Book Award next week, but I'm confident those genre-bending Pulitzer lovers will have room for it in April 2011. Regardless, it's earned a spot on my Favorites of the Year and Favorites of All-Time lists. I'm looking forward to exploring Egan's backlist.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 274 pages
Publication date: June 8, 2010
Source: my local public library

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  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one: I'd be interested in it too, as I really enjoyed The Keep. That seems to be one which divides readers, but I think it's because there is something challenging about the narrative structure there too (although you don't realize that at first). She is an author I discovered by reading the Orange Prize nominees: the kind of discovery that keeps taking me back to their prizelists!

  2. I like that the author uses unusual ways to tell her story, and have been thinking of buying this one for myself and my husband. Your review just pushed me over the edge, and I am now off to find a copy. Thanks for your enthusiastic and very persuasive review! I am looking forward to reading it!

  3. @Buried In Print - I've been meaning to read The Keep for far too long. I love that you found her reading Orange Prize nominees. It's a new obsession of mine too.

    @Zibilee - I do think you'll like this one too. I'll look forward to your review!

  4. I have seen this on the shelf at the library on several occasions. It always seems to jump out at me; I suppose because of the cover. I'm happy to hear that it is both literary and accessible, and that it exceeded your expectations! Perhaps the next time I see it on the shelf, I'll pick it up!

  5. @Heather - I hope you do find time to pick it up and read it (and enjoy it as much as I did!)


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!