Monday, June 20, 2011
A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Pulitzer Prize winning book for fiction this year is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It also recently won the National Book Critics Circle Award. I was curious to read this highly acclaimed novel. How would it stand up next to the other Pulitzer Prize winners that I've read such as Middlesex, The Confederacy of Dunces and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? Brilliant books all of them. So, is this book worthy? A Visit from the Goon Squad is good! It's very good in fact. I can't say I loved it though but maybe it's because I read Great House by Nicole Krauss just before it and then Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer just after. Sandwiched in between these two beautiful novels, Goon Squad didn't stand a chance. It was a very quick and enjoyable read though and in hindsight it was pretty cool. Do I think it's deserving of the Pulitzer? Yes and no. I prefer the other novels I mentioned above, however the Goon Squad is so original and quirky that it certainly deserves the recognition it has received.
It's not easy to summarize the plot of A Visit from the Goon Squad because the book is made up of chapters that can stand alone as short stories. There are a number of characters and the interlocking narratives go back and forth in time mainly following the lives of Bennie and Sasha and the people that surround them. Bennie is a record producer and Sasha is his assistant. Viewpoints switch from first to third and even second person. The settings are the New York music scene, the Bay area during the punk rock days, an African safari (my favorite chapter), Naples, Italy and even the future. There's also the much talked about Power Point chapter which is very unique (see below). It's hard to believe that a book structured such as this would be a page-turner but it definitely is that. Egan's prose flows like music and before you know it you've finished a chapter and are on to the next. As you move forward in the book, a theme becomes apparent - the passage of time. "Time's a goon right?" A Visit from the Goon Squad is not just innovative, it's surprisingly entertaining.