A Visit from the Goon Squad

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit from the Goon Squad. Alfred A. Knopf (New York: 2010).

9780307477477The music industry may link this fascinating collection of characters, but what we experience is each one’s separate, deeply personal movement through time as they dance with their demons. The way forward is murky, as it is in our own heads, but there are insights here that light up the page. We see Sasha, who works for record executive Bennie and is in secret a kleptomaniac, standing by her pile of stolen objects with “a tenderness that was only heightened by the shame of their acquisition. She’d risked everything, and here was the result: the raw, warped core of her life.” Egan’s postmodern techniques of fragmentation and ever-changing perspectives only make us more determined to hunt for these treasures of truth – to seek for answers to how and why people change. We get the sense that even in this vain, selfish world, there are people fighting to be honest with themselves, if only for a moment, people struggling to learn. We find ourselves caring about them, often in spite of themselves.

For writers: If you wonder what agents mean by a literary novel with a commercial hook, here is one answer. Don’t be fooled by Egan’s breezy postmodernism: this is a serious book. Her restless narrative techniques complement the edginess of her chosen milieu, and the prose at the heart of every perspective is powerful and lucid. The insights she achieves come from connecting deeply with her characters and staying with them – from the hard work of laying down character-specific actions and details that lead to discovery and truth. And even though the narrative devices vary all over the place, each is chosen with a distinct character in mind: Sasha is revealed through a reluctant close 3rd; naive Rhea through uncensored 1st; egocentric Lou through distant, ironic omniscience; celebrity Kitty through a crazed interview. Near the end, a child obsessed with the pauses in music only lets us peak in through her charts. But there we glimpse one of the most startling insights of all: pauses are a gift, because you’re afraid the song’s about to end, but it doesn’t, not yet. You still have time left for more.



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