Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize wining novel reads like a mixed tape of characters so there's something for everyone.  And seriously...this book should come with a soundtrack.

   Critics are divided about whether to classify A Visit From the Goon Squad as a novel or a collection of short stories.  Each chapter is told from a different perspective, but the characters are all connected (at least loosely) to Bennie, a record producer, and his assistant, Sasha.  While Bennie and Sasha serve as the story's common denominator, the other characters we meet are equally interesting and well-developed - they're not just plot devices to bridge the gap between the past and present of Bennie and Sasha's story.  This book contains no single protagonist, but instead revolves around a group of people whose lives intersect and separate, but still manage to be self-contained.

   This book is great for music lovers as the history of punk, rock, and pop music plays a significant role in the characters' lives.  Even the book's formatting seems to resemble a concept album, where each chapter is a separate song but still a part of the same album.  Jennifer Egan is definitely a unique storyteller (one of the chapters is written as a PowerPoint presentation, another is written as a magazine article) and her characters are so painfully realistic that it's easy to relate to them even if you don't want to.

   I found myself feeling quite nostalgic as I was reading this book.  The whole framework of the novel is built around the characters' memories, thoughts, and experiences, and when their entire youth is played out in only a chapter or two it forces us to remember that our own youth is fleeting.  Egan's characters have made many mistakes and have many regrets, but their triumphs (however small they may be) are what redeem them and make them memorable.