A Visit From the Goon Squad

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

This Pulitzer-Prize winner has gotten a lot of press for its unconventional format. I was a bit wary of the hype, but decided to give it a shot. The book opens with Sasha, a young woman in New York and I was immediately hooked. In the next chapter we meet her boss Bennie, then Rhea, who knew Bennie when he was young, then Lou, Bennie’s mentor, then Lou’s kids, etc. Each new section gives the story from a different person’s point of view, often flitting years into the past or future.

For me, chapter 4 “Safari,” in which we meet siblings Rolph and Charlie, was the turning point in the book. It showed me the stories were not just fun glimpses into random people’s lives. All of a sudden the book had an unexpected depth and every new chapter deepened the characters’ overall world.

The beautifully drawn maze reveals dozens of interconnected lives. It weaves them together, creating a tapestry that spans decades and continents. The format never seems forced, but instead it enhances each individual story by tying it to someone else’s complicated world.

My brain felt like it actually had to work as I started each new chapter. I wondered who this new person was and how they were connected to the bigger picture. I had to pay close attention to all the peripheral people in each section, because I never knew who I would be getting to know next. Yet with all those layers, the book never loses its feeling of lightness as readers play connect the dots with the characters.

Egan created such a wide web of lives that there is no chance for boredom or a lag in the book. The much lauded PowerPoint chapter lives up to the hype as well. It doesn’t feel gimmicky and works perfectly in the context of that person’s life. She also occasionally reveals flashes of what happens to people 20 or 30 years down the road, which sounds cheesy, but it worked perfectly.

I debated my rating on this, because it's by no means a perfect book, but in the end I really loved reading it and I know it's one I'll want to read again*. The thing that really tipped it over the edge is that I want to talk about it. I finished it and couldn't stop thinking about the characters and how they were connected and where each story lay in the overall chronology and I just wanted to discuss it with someone. And to me, that makes it a great book.

*I read a library book, but bought a paperback copy I found at Half Priced Books the day after finishing it.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

To want to read a book a second time, says it all. I'm happy you liked this; I have the audio on my iPod.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I totally agree with you. It wasn't perfect, but it was so creative and left me just delighted at the fact that I never knew what was coming. Not many books make my mind buzz like this one did!

nomadreader said...

I loved this one too and appreciated the challenge and newness of each chapter and realizing how it all fit together. I think it was ambitious and ultimately successful. I'm glad the hype didn't let you down:-)

B said...

Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I also enjoyed the PowerPoint chapter.

bermudaonion said...

I want to read this one in spite of the mixed reviews it's gotten. I like unconventional so the format sounds appealing to me.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

It's on my TBR and I want to read it still this summer.

CB James over at Ready When You ARE, CB has done a great Excel table on how the different characters relate, have you see it?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane- I think I'll listen to the audio next time, but I really wanted to see the PowerPoint chapter on the page.

Sandy - That's it exactly, my mind was buzzing.

nomadreader - It was an ambitious book, but I'm so glad she was successful. It would have been so easy to make it seem forced.

Bermudaonion - It's absolutely worth checking out.

Alex - I hadn't seen that yet, that's awesome. He created such a gerat table! Thank you for letting me know, I'm going to print it off for the next time I read it.

Jenners said...

I made the mistake of reading this in bits and pieces and lost the thread that weaves all the stories together ... and that was a big mistake. I actually plan on rereading it in one sitting (or over the course of a few days) so I can really appreciate what Egan has done here. You are right ... you need to keep focused and use your brain a bit to keep all the balls up in the air but it is such a neat book to read. And you do want to talk about it when you are done. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!!!

By the way, I'm just back from vacation and getting caught up with your blog but I'm only going to leave one comment so I don't stay "behind" forever. : )

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Welcome back! It's so hard to catch up after a trip, I'm glad you stopped by. I remember your review of Goon Squad and I think I would have had the same reaction if I hadn't read it all in a tight timeframe. There are just too many threads to hang on to.