Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan's A VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD has been selling well at the bookstore, which, as we know, is not necessarily an indication that it is a good book.

In this case, however, it is.

        A Visit from the Goon Squad

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Sasha. She steals. We see her steal a wallet from a bag in a public bathroom, and later in the chapter she talks to her therapist about the theft. She doesn't steal for the money or value of the items, she feels compelled to do it and stealing and having the stolen items gives her comfort.

In the second chapter, we get to know Bennie. He is Sasha's boss at a music production company, but in this chapter his relationship to Sasha is incidental as we learn about Bennie, a 44 year old, recently divorced man using a regimen of gold flakes in his coffee to ensure his sexual potency. Sasha is barely present here.

Each chapter goes on like this, introducing new characters who are connected to characters we've met in previous chapters, sometimes only tangentially.

In addition to introducing us to new people, chapters are often set at different times in their lives; one chapter is set when Bennie is a teenager but is told from the point of view of one of his best friends, another is told through one of Sasha's children's eyes set years after the first chapter where we first meet her.

Sound confusing? It is...each new chapter almost felt like starting a whole new book, who are these people? where are we? when is this taking place?

For the most part, I liked the different trajectories, figuring out how everyone was connected, and even liked not being able to follow each trajectory for more than a chapter. Sometimes, though, I did not want a particular chapter to end, I wanted to see what would happen next to those particular characters at that particular time.

One customer commented that she'd heard that the book was depressing (she was buying it anyway). I asked J., who'd first recommended it to me. "The characters aren't always redeeming," she said, "but I didn't get depressed reading about them."

And I didn't either.

While at times I didn't have the focus to start a new chapter and figure out who was who and when and where and so on (which maybe had to do with my partner's mother having a stroke and me not being at the top of my game in the focus department lately), I loved how Egan gave so much depth to all of the characters by giving us glimpses into their lives at different times and places. Well done!

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