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"A Visit From The Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan

Hey, read this book.  It's really, really good.    

Each chapter is almost its own discrete story.  Almost, because to a greater or lesser degree of separation all of the characters are connected to the young guys who formed a punk rock group circa 1980, to roots in sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock & roll.  A tangential character in one chapter becomes the main character in the next.  In this way Egan is always making us look at the familiar in new ways.  We think we have a character pegged: I'm thinking of a middle-aged record industry guy who rather takes advantage of his smitten teenage girlfriend's eagerness to please him.  He's a sleaze, I thought.  Then, in follow-up chapters that take us both backward and forward in his life, including a remarkable one told from the point of view of the girl he exploited, Egan did something I wouldn't have thought possible: she showed me things that really complicated my feelings about the guy.

She nonchalantly takes great leaps in time, revealing in a sudden sentence or paragraph where a character ended up.  The effect is jarring...and very moving.  These are people who were never supposed to grow old, as of course they must.  The book is about generations.  Time is the great leveler, unforgiving.  However, while not everyone makes it in Egan's book, everyone who lives long enough does find something like forgiveness.  

She also takes great leaps in space, say, from a dense urban milieu to a home by the desert that's as far afield as you could imagine, the book's web of characters spread out under the sun and stars.  Each is flawed in some essential way.  A character who acts as a thread running throughout, Sasha, is an assistant to a record producer; she also happens to be a klepto.

Egan has such a good eye and ear.  The chapters are told in a wild variety of styles and voices, and they mostly ring true.  (Her ability to write men is really uncanny: how she gets so well the way they think about women is something I can't quite figure out.)  Very quickly she gives you an idea of who these people are.  If you're like me, you'll feel like you know some of them.  One group of characters is in college in the early 90s, as was I. 

You'll also feel that sense of excitement you get when a writer puts down in words an experience that triggers sense memories of your own: the feeling of being a kid playing furtively on the periphery of some festive adult occasion, the closeness of kids conspiring in the night.  Or the feeling of carrying a scared child, her arms taking comfort around you, the trust of her light weight.    

Which I guess is all a way of saying: check it out.


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Reader Comments (1)

Not going to read this review as I have this and it's on my list. I'll let you know when I get it done :)

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarolyn

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