Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad

I just finished Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. I did it as an audio book, but went back to print form to review a couple bits (a note on why follows below).

I went into it without any expectations, going off a friend's recommendation. I had no idea it won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2011.

What I got was a really unique novel with great characters with loosely interwoven stories, a really unique format/structure for a novel, and a surprise pinch of well crafted futurism thrown in for good measure.

The story centers (if you can even call it that) around two characters, a perhaps-past-his-prime music industry exec and his assistant. However, many chapters are spent dealing with rich portraits of other characters whose lives intersect with the main two. These intersections aren't in the contrived fashion seen in many novels where all the characters are brought together in a big knotted bow at the end. Rather, they only loosely intersect, sometimes only once or twice. This makes it far more plausible and also it makes it less about driving the story and more about painting the portraits of the characters and using them to further support the main theme.

The main theme is about the passage of time (the 'goon' mentioned in the title is time itself), and its inevitable erosion of hopes and dreams, and how the people find themselves in a place they didn't expect in their lives ("I want to know what happened between A and B" one character asks).

The format of the novel is quite... novel, but not for everyone. Chapters skip back and forth between characters, back and forth in time periods, and jump between first and third person. One chapter is done as a powerpoint presentation.

The characters are the way the author paints them is top notch. Again though, if you are after a traditional format, this may not be the book for you.

One last thing: On the experimental format, be warned that this means the transition to other formats may not have made it cleanly. In the case of the audio book, the power-point chapter doesn't translate well, and isn't helped by the skeuomorph "slide show clicker" sound effect added. I've also heard that the same PPT chapter is difficult to read on the kindle. That aside, the book is still worth getting regardless of format.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

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