BookBrowse Reviews A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Visit from the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A spellbinding interlocking narrative that circles the lives of an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and the troubled young woman he employs

"The days of losing touch are almost gone," proclaims one of the many characters in Jennifer Egan's meditation on the loss of youthful idealism to the ravages of time and the secrets that reverberate through the years. It is the early 1990s, and Sasha, Drew, and Rob are students at New York University, bright 20-somethings on the verge of promising lives, in a city aglow with possibility. Bill Clinton has just been elected, the Internet is beginning to bubble up from its underground status into a mainstream phenomenon, and 9/11 is still a blissful decade away. "We'll meet in that new place," says their friend Bix, the Internet prophet, "and first it'll seem strange, and pretty soon it'll seem strange that you could ever lose someone, or get lost." However, the realities of losing touch and getting lost animate this novel, with characters breaking away from each other far more often than coming together.

Rock music provides the connecting thread between these characters as well as their only constant glimmer of salvation; almost everyone in Goon Squad either performs in a band, works for a record company, or avidly listens to music, making the novel a rock fan's dream. Rock music is notoriously difficult to write about, especially in fictional form, where literary platitudes and rhapsodic discursions often fall short of the transformative experience of actually listening to the music. Egan succeeds, though, by offering pithy observations on the sterility of digital remastering ("The problem was precision, perfection; the problem was digitization, which sucked the life out of everything that got smeared through its microscopic mesh") and the overwhelming power of listening to music over head phones ("...the experience of music pouring directly against her eardrums—hers alone—is a shock that makes her eyes well up; the privacy of it, the way it transforms her surroundings into a golden montage.."). Music lovers recognize these sorts of truths as gospel, and Egan's obvious affinity with music, especially punk and post-punk, gives the book all the magic of a favorite song.

My favorite songs have always been the sad ones, and in this respect, Goon Squad does not disappoint. Chapters 3, 4, and 11 contain some of the most heartbreaking depictions of adolescent turmoil that I have ever read: Chapter 3 focuses on Bennie's youth in the San Francisco punk scene and is narrated by Rhea, the perceptive and lonely girl who loves him; Chapter 4 takes us back to the early '70s, on a life-changing African safari with Lou, his girlfriend, and his daughter and son; and Chapter 11, which could stand alone as a prize-worthy short story, explores the complex relationship between young runaway Sasha and the uncle who searches for her in the underbelly of Naples, circa 1988. When Egan bluntly reveals what will eventually happen to her characters, often in a sentence or two, their often-tragic fates carry devastating impact. Even the stories that end more or less happily have a kind of melancholy, as characters exchange the brash vitality of youth for the quiet resignation of adulthood.

While Goon Squad is brilliantly written, it does have a few flaws, the kind of minor irritations that music fans recognize from listening to an otherwise great album marred by the occasional bum note. Aside from the aforementioned Chapter 11, Sasha remains an oddly uninteresting character, one whose alleged allure never seems quite earned, despite such quirks as kleptomania, bright red hair, and an apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen. Often the other characters surrounding her seem much more nuanced, which renders the chapters in which she appears akin to watching a movie for the supporting actors instead of the star.

Likewise, the Jules and Kitty storyline comes across as a pleasant diversion that adds little to the overall plot; their chapter, written in the form of an entertainment article that might have appeared in the '90s heyday of Rolling Stone or Spin, is a dead ringer for the arch meta-narratives of writers like Nicholson Baker and David Foster Wallace, studded with ironic commentary and self-referential footnotes. Egan can write well in any form she chooses, but this section verges on overkill, as does the Power Point format that Sasha's precocious daughter uses to tell the tale of Sasha's adult life as a mother and sculptor in the California desert. Still, at its best, A Visit from the Goon Squad approaches the mournful majesty of the song lyrics from which Chapter 11's title, "Good-bye, My Love," may be taken: "Good-bye, my love/Maybe for forever/Good-bye, my love/The tide waits for me/Who knows when we shall meet again/If ever…"("Time" by the Alan Parsons Project, 1981).

Reviewed by Marnie Colton

This review was originally published in July 2010, and has been updated for the March 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  California Punk

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: If We Were Villains
    If We Were Villains
    by M L. Rio
    22 out of 28 of our reviewers rated If We Were Villains four or five stars, giving it an overall ...
  • Book Jacket: The Islamic Enlightenment
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Leavers
    The Leavers
    by Lisa Ko
    The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school. A navy blue...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Scribe of Siena
    by Melodie Winawer

    Equal parts transporting love story, meticulously researched historical fiction, and compelling time-travel narrative.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Chalk Pit

The Chalk Pit:
A Ruth Galloway Mystery

A string of murders takes Ruth underground in the newest book in the series.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T W Don't M A R

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -