If Jennifer Egan is our reward for living through the self-conscious gimmicks and ironic claptrap of postmodernism, then it was all worthwhile. Her new novel, is a medley of voices -- in first, second and third person -- scrambled through time and across the globe with a 70-page PowerPoint presentation reproduced toward the end.
I know that sounds like the headache-inducing, aren't-I-brilliant tedium that sends readers running to nonfiction, but Egan uses all these stylistic and formal shenanigans to produce a deeply humane story about growing up and growing old in a culture corroded by technology and marketing. And what's best, every movement of this symphony of boomer life plays out through the modern music scene, a white-knuckle trajectory of cool, from punk to junk to whatever might lie beyond. My only complaint is that A Visit From the Goon Squad doesn't come with a CD.
Ms. Egan’s vision is mostly dystopian, but what makes it most memorable is the eccentricity. She imagines that the aftermath of 15 years of war have led to a baby boom. And technology has eagerly leapt to accommodate a new demographic group: gadget-loving children. Pity the poor rock stars who find themselves at the mercy of toddlers who have purchasing power. Ms. Egan slyly turns one Goon Squad recurring character into one of those stars.
As thought-provoking and entertaining as Egan’s speculative projections are, A Visit From the Goon Squad is, in the end, far more than a demonstration of the author’s skill in bending time, form, and genre. It’s a distinctive and often moving portrayal of how — even when their inhabitants don’t realize it — lives can intersect and influence one another in profound and enduring ways.
What an exhilarating, aching, mind-blowing dance to the music of time this book is. Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad mashes up experimental technique with rock-solid realism to create a book that is at once a joyful blast of youth and an unsettling evocation of that universal phenomenon of middle age: Wait a minute, how the hell did we get old?
Expect to inhale Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. Then expect it to lodge in your cranium and your breastbone a good long while.
I expect this brilliant, inventive novel to become enshrined. Such rash speculation is foolish, I know -- we live amid a plague of bloated praise. But A Visit From the Goon Squad is emboldening. It cracks the world open afresh.
The rock 'n' roll novel has become a kind of artistic rite of passage for many writers born into the second half of the last century. It creates instant Americana and illusions of glamour, allows for riffs on togetherness, heartbreak, compromise and self-destruction, and indulges the aspiring hipster in every author. Now Jennifer Egan has written hers. Rather than the knee-jerk genre exercise such efforts often become, though, A Visit from the Goon Squad stands on its own, and we hear it loud and clear.
Egan's ability to mingle the troubling issues of the Internet age with eternal human questions about the nature of self and the consequences of compromise, evident in such earlier works as Look at Me and The Keep, reach a new level of strength and simplicity here. A Visit From the Goon Squad reaffirms her stature as one of our most thoughtful and exciting writers.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is complicated and complex, but because it addresses some of life's big questions, it is philosophically compelling and universal. The particulars of each character are unique, yet the themes remain the same. Despite the occasional fragmentation of the story, the exploration of identity, music and time make for a melodic and intelligent novel.
It's a winning, adventuresome whole but with some underperforming parts. There are too many reveries in which characters recount overfamiliar sorrows. And with such a variety of people, eras and settings Egan edges toward shorthand: The punk club is wild and debauched in the way we'd expect, the ritzy suburb bigoted and antiseptic in another unsurprising way.
These complaints come infrequently, however, and recede with the accretion of the book's themes -- the biggest one being no less than time itself. Some of these characters are in midlife, yes, but the crisis Egan's looking at is permanent, the one we're always in the middle of, at least till time -- 'a goon,' says one of the book's creaky rockers -- cues our exit. It's a bleak book, but also wise, witty and inventive.
It's a tricky book, but in the best way. When I got to the end, I wanted to start from the top again immediately, both to revisit the characters and to understand better how the pieces fit together. Like a masterful album, this one demands a replay.
Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is a lively novel in stories about Sasha, an assistant in the music business, and her boss, Bennie Salazar. It may be the smartest book you can get your hands on this summer.