Visit from the Goon Squad (Review)


A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan, 2010
288 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
December 2010
This may be the best book I've read in several years, Egan gives a virtuosic performance, linking together a huge array of characters and bouncing back and forth from present to past to future. It. Is. Stunning.

If you're looking for straightforward narrative, this is not your book. Eagan gives us a series of chapters, each with characters we've met before...or will meet again, some in 2019. It's her ability to link disparate stories—yet maintain exquisite coherence—that makes Goon Squad such a feat. Here's from a New York Times review. It should give you an idea of the dizzying quality of Eagan's conception.

The book starts with Sasha, a kleptomaniac, who works for Bennie, a record executive, who is a protege of Lou who seduced Jocelyn who was loved by Scotty who played guitar for the Flaming Dildos, a San Francisco punk band for which Bennie once played bass guitar (none too well), before marrying Stephanie who is charged with trying to...

And on it goes. The review is hard to get at first—but if you read Goon Squad, you'll see it as a brilliant explication of how the book works.

"Time is a goon," from whence the title, and time is the overarching theme...tying together everyone and thing. Using the music industry as her backdrop, Eagan shows how time's passage warps human life and technology—marriages, careers, musical taste, and the body, each victim of time's momentum.

And by jerking us through different time frames—forward, then backward, then forward, and so on—Eagan creates an eerie sense of inevitabilty. Things will change...those who adapt survive. Yet overall, her people simply muddle through in a loosely scrambled community of time's survivors.

There's so much that's good in this book: humor (its very, very funny), sharp insights, wonderful characters, and sweet pathos. My favorite is the 70-page PowerPoint chapter by a 14-year-old: how Eagan converts a slideshow into an emotion-packed narrative is beyond understanding. Just trust me—it's terrific.

Run—don't walk—to your nearest bookstore, library, or keyboard. Lay your hands on A Visit from the Goon Squad. Then read, savor...and talk.

See our Reading Guide for A Visit From the Goon Squad.

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