A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is like reading a series of fascinating vignettes, that, had they been printed separately and sold as little pamphlets (Volume One: Bennie; Volume Two: Sasha) they would still stand on their own as  fascinating character studies. But, with a thread of connection that joins every separate story together, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts-a brilliant story about how people live together, fall in love, fight, and communicate.

Before starting this review, I looked through the book and was reminded how brilliantly Egan pulls you in to the narrative and makes you care for these characters. Within a few lines of a new story, you urge these characters to succeed, or to survive a moment of torment intact. And not one character feels weaker than the rest; each one has their own arc, their own goals and a unique view of the world, making every chapter feel fresh. And this structure, dedicating a chapter to a new character, helps Egan show off what seem to be her key themes; how people communicate, interact and how lives intersect.

Egan expects the reader to pay attention to the minor characters as these chapters progress. Someone who is incidental in one person’s life can become the focus of the next story, with every chapter holding the kernel of the next. But it is Bennie Salazar and his PA, Sasha, who form the backbone of the story, as we watch them working in the music industry in the 1970’s to the present day (and beyond) with a wide assortment of colourful characters, who they marry, fight, cheat on, steal from (a lot) and, amid the chaos of their lives and those they cross paths with,  try to find something like happiness.

The consequences of so many seemingly minor incidents (though they never feel like it) over the course of the book are dramatic, and the sense of loss and loneliness is palpable, particularly as the book reaches the present day. This perhaps isn’t a coincidence, as Egan comments on the rise in technology, the all powerful online community; ‘T’ing- eerily realistic- as people sit next to each other and communicate via text; toddlers have major buying influence and musicians perform children’s lullaby’s to tap into the lucrative market share.

It doesn’t pay to expect a traditional plot from this one and once you accept this is unlike anything else you’ve read, it becomes impossible to put down. It’s a slipperly one, but in a great way.

And it won the Pulitzer Prize, so read it now before they  film it and it gets ruined….(though Jim Jarmusch could probably do a pretty good job)


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