Summary and book reviews of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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About this Book

Book Summary

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

Chapter 1

Found Objects

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had: that at, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand-it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, accept the challenge, take the leap, fly ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. A Visit from the Goon Squad shifts among various perspectives, voices, and time periods, and in one striking chapter (pp. 234–309), departs from conventional narrative entirely. What does the mixture of voices and narrative forms convey about the nature of experience and the creation of memories? Why has Egan arranged the stories out of chronological sequence?
  2. In "A to B" Bosco unintentionally coins the phrase "Time's a goon" (p. 127), used again by Bennie in "Pure Language" (p. 332). What does Bosco mean? What does Bennie mean? What does the author mean?
  3. "Found Objects" and "The Gold Cure" include accounts of Sasha's and Bennie's therapy sessions. Sasha ...
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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2011

  • award image

    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

Full Review Members Only (847 words).

Media Reviews

Elle

[Egan is] a boldly intellectual writer who is not afraid to apply her equally powerful intuitive skills to her ambitious projects. . . . While it’s a time-trekking, tech-freakin’ doozie, the characters’ lives and fates claim the story first and foremost, and we are pulled right in. . . . Brilliantly structured, with storylike chapters.

Marie-Claire

A Visit from the Goon Squad [is] an exhilarating, big-hearted, three-headed beast of a story. . . . [A] genius as a writer. . . . We see ourselves in all of Egan’s characters because their stories of heartbreak and redemption seem so real they could be our own, regardless of the soundtrack. Such is the stuff great novels are made of.

Library Journal

In the end, this novel does offer hope, but it is the grubby kind that keeps you going once you've been kicked to the curb.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Another ambitious change of pace from talented and visionary Egan, who reinvents the novel for the 21st century while affirming its historic values.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The star-crossed marriage of lucid prose and expertly deployed postmodern switcheroos that helped shoot Egan to the top of the genre bending new school is alive and well in this graceful yet wild novel ... powerful.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Egan is a writer of cunning subtlety, embedding within the risky endeavors of seductively complicated characters a curious bending of time .... a hilarious melancholy, enrapturing, unnerving, and piercingly beautiful mosaic of a novel.

Reader Reviews

Lynn

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad interpolates characters that are struggling with the process of aging while at the same time figuring out their paths and direction in life. Although the book was well-written with each chapter an engaging short story of ...   Read More

Anne

What's wrong with me?
The critics adored this book! In fact I never read such accolades: "extraordinary", "dazzling", etc. I couldn't wait to purchase it and begin reading. I'm reading it...and reading it.....but where's the good part? These people ...   Read More

mainlinebooker

what is with all the hype?
Yes, it is clever..but that doesn't warrant the accolades this book is getting. Not an arresting book at all..

K heada

A visit from the goon squad
I finished the book the whole time thinking when will this grab my attention. Very confusing each chapter a different character at different stages of their lives. Not alot of substance. A waste of my time. Would not recomend. It was book club book...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

California Punk

Although Jennifer Egan now lives in New York, she grew up in California, and her knowledge of the Bay Area/Los Angeles music scene gives the book a gritty authenticity, with references to bands rarely mentioned in the pages of literary fiction: the Dead Kennedys, the Nuns, Black Flag, the Avengers, the Germs, and Negative Trend are all name-checked. "Nineteen-eighty is almost here, thank God," sneers Rhea, scoffing at the Haight-Ashbury's burned out hippies and reveling in her identity as a green-haired punk. Bennie plays bass while Scotty sings lead in their band, the Flaming Dildos, and Rhea and Jocelyn, attired in dog collars and ripped stockings, attend thrillingly aggressive shows at venues like San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens...

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