“A Visit From the Goon Squad”
“A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2010, 274 pages
It’s an extraordinary book about ordinary people in which you may very well conclude that “ordinary people” is a meaningless term. In the hands of a truly extraordinary writer, like Jennifer Egan, such creatures do not exist.
They are people of our age, that is, our contemporary, near contemporary era, today, yesterday, tomorrow. In one chapter they are teen agers, in another in their 50’s, or 30’s, and then it is decades – we are not quite sure how many – earlier. And then we catch them in the future, which is when, exactly? We are not sure. And it all makes perfect sense.
Most of these people love music – they are driven by it. To make it, to listen to it, record it, sell it. Listed on the back of the title page, hints for librarians or search engines, are: “Punk rock musicians, sound recording executives, old men, young women, psychological fiction”. Hmmmnn…if young men are not mentioned, is it a given everyone will know they are already accounted for – “punk rock musicians”? And as for “psychological fiction”, should I put this book review in “Cabinet privé”? Could do.
This is the best constructed novel I have ever read; it could hold its own as a book of related short stories as well. It does not follow a chronological time line, the floor plan is not totally obvious.You may find yourself wondering how you got where you are, not sure where you are going, and yet the more you read, the deeper you travel into it, the more certain you are that you are in good hands. And when you have finished reading it, you will be awed by its wisdom and its beauty. Indeed, you will feel the tremors of that awe all along the way. Even, I must add, in the section in Powerpoint. Yes, I said that. Though I am a person who generally deplores Powerpoint presentations, in Jennifer Egan’s hands, this part of the book not only fits perfectly with the beauty and wisdom of the rest, it is particularly touching. (Note: maybe it’s not Powerpoint. You can visit it on the web in full colour with music. www.jenniferegan.com, click on books, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and scroll down – its amazing!)
I was puzzled at the end of the book, left with the big question – what does it all mean? Not a bad thing, to be left with, that. You stay with it, it stays with you. And then the next reader in the family opened the book at the page following the dedication to read me the words Jennifer Egan chose to begin with, quoting Marcel Proust from his book, In Search of Lost Time. I had indeed lost it on the way to the end of the book.
That quote for this book! (You, too, will find it when you need it.) If Jennifer Egan is not a genius, she is certainly a very wise woman. While she makes no mention of the shaky translation of his title, “A La Recherche du Temps Perdu”, she certainly made me think of it profoundly. Are we searching in our memories for time that is lost, a time that is lost, the people we knew then, the person “I” was then? Or are we seeking to understand this time, “now”? Can we ever?
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Had anyone asked for my vote, yes, yes, yes in both cases.
©Elaine A. Zimbel 2011
Posted in Book Reviews