Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (Anchor Books, 2010)
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Anchor Books, 2010)

A Visit from the Goon Squad is Jennifer Egan’s most celebrated novel (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) and so even though I hadn’t really enjoyed her previous novel, The Keep, that much I was looking forward to reading this one.

I didn’t love The Goon Squad but it was an engaging read. Although the blurbs on the back cover told me that this was a story about an aging music producer/former punk rocker named Bennie, and his assistant, Sash, it’s really not. Just as it’s more a series of linked short stories than a novel. In fact, I think it’s a better book if you approach it from that angle.

Each chapter, or story, focuses on a different character and time. The voices vary – and Egan does well in the variations here; the characters really feel unique to one another. And while the readers can easily make the connections to Bennie or Sasha, that connection isn’t always crucial.

Egan takes us through time, including a close but vastly changed future, generally sticking close to New York City. Music is central to the lives of these characters, as are the many secrets they carry. The hurts they’ve experienced and the pains they’ve inflicted.

Read as a novel, I’m left wondering what the book is trying to say. What is it about? And why? But if I look back at it as a thoughtful series of stories – vignettes of people’s lives and struggles and the ways in which we’re all connected (even in a massive city like New York) it becomes somehow more poignant. A statement, perhaps, that life matters and we each touch many other lives. Even when we don’t know it.

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