When writing a review it’s hard to know where to begin, and a summary of the plot seems to always be a good way.
But when it comes to “A Visit From the Good Squad,” Jennifer Egan’s smash hit and the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer, well, that’s easier said than done.
The book, at a most basic level, is about a cast of characters who are connected, albeit loosely, by the record industry.
OK, well that made it simple. Except it’s not, because the characters are connected by the thinnest of strings. The narrators switch from first person, to the third person and even second person. In one chapter you could be following record exec Bennie as he goes to check out a band with his assistant, Sasha, in the present, and then you could be traveling back to the ’70s to when Sasha is in college. So the book makes the reader feel a little confused and disconnected at times, at least it made me feel that way.
Each chapter is really its own story and some have called the book more a collection of short stories than a novel. But I think each story needs the others to grow, even if it’s a simple person in passing who becomes a more central figure later on.
The book was strange, unusual and I actually found it interesting though not totally enjoyable. I enjoy linear plotlines so much more, especially if there is a wide-range of characters. And I found the characters hard to connect with — there was no love or emotion for any of them.
However, I do love novels that have so many different characters that are all connected. I love the saying of, “it’s such a small world” — like when you meet someone who randomly knows someone you also know. In how many ways are we all connected? In ten years down the road will I reunite with an old friend, or a marry a friend of a friend’s cousin?
Along with the character connections, the main theme of the book is time and how it creates those connections and in some cases disconnections. As one character says in the book “Time’s a goon.” Which it is, but I think most people know that without reading a book. Time pulls people apart, changes people and often doesn’t bring us to where we thought we would be. The characters in “Goon Squad” don’t follow the paths they expect to follow. But does anyone, really?
The one chapter in the novel I enjoyed most is not writing at all but done as a PowerPoint presentation by one of the character’s daughters. I thought it was unique and well done by Egan, it got across the thoughts of the daughter and life of the family in such a simple but captivating way.
At the end of the book, we are in the future at the site where the Twin Towers used to stand — and to a time where texting is the main form of communication, even for young children. This shows the great passage of time and maybe where society is headed. But the end did nothing for me. What did I get out of reading the book? Nada.
I think I put off reading it for so long because modern American writing that wins the Pulitzer always seems a little too much for me. “Goon Squad” was almost there, almost too unconventional, but I thought Egan had an interesting way of writing it and even if I didn’t love or hate any of the characters, I at least found them fascinating. The book was good, but not great. I was expecting a little more. A little more of what? I’m not even sure.
Three stars out of five