Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad is the darling of last year's "Best Of" and "Must Read" lists. I tend to clear a wide berth around novels having anything to do with show business, so it took a good deal of Pulitzer and Tournament of Books attention to entice me into reading this one. Given all the hype, I figured it was worth at least taking the chance and when I found the trade paperback on sale, I snapped it up.
What did I get for going against my natural inclination to stay away from show business books? A solid, "meh," that's what.
If you follow my Twitter feed or are my Goodreads buddy, you've seen the word "slog" out of me quite often over the last week in regards to the ole Goon Squad. While parts of it were captivating and titilating and all those other good atings, there were stretches that made me want to clean the house, change the cat litter, or do just about anything else except read. Quite simply, I forced myself to finish it.
Now, before you stop reading (are you still reading?) and just assume it's a wash, it's not really.There were really good parts, but they were a little too few and far between for me to love it outright.
If you haven't already heard, Goon Squad is a collection of loosely related chapters hinging on a few key characters and the loads of peripheral characters that float in and out of their lives. It's damn hard to explain so go on over and read Janet Maslin's NY Times Review if you want a really good blurb and a specific example of how the stories relate. My somewhat flippant blurb goes like this: the key figures are Bennie, an aging music producer, and Sasha, his kleptomaniac assistant. The book spans from the 1980s when Bennie is a burgeoning punk rocker to the future when the U.S. is a growing desert and babies all have hand-held devices remarkably like iPads. And they buy music. Why wouldn't they? At that point Bennie is thoroughly pissed off with music and stages a surprising comeback for himself and another sad sack you'll get to know along the way. Nothing is chronological, so it's a big cluster following who's who and why they're nuts.
Jennifer Egan is undoubtedly hella talented. The book is superbly plotted and I was really stunned that she was able to carry off what often seemed desultory connections between the characters and made them into something more meaningful -- a short story cycle with some semblance of cohesion among all the noise. There were moments of pure humor, pure heartbreak, and then there were long stretches of "meh" that just drove me nuts. Without some of the "meh" this would've been a clear winner for me. As it is, I'll probably remember a few key moments and quickly forget the rest. The point of this book? A simple one: time is a goon. It'll hunt you down, kick you in jewels, and move right on to the next hit.
I do plan to read more of Egan's work. The Keep looks downright droolworthy and I already own Look at Me.This book also cements the fact that Pulitzer and I have an extremely hit and miss relationship. Some winners I love, some I loathe, and some would make really good coasters.
Snuggle - Skewer
Pub. Date: March 22, 2011
Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
Source: Purchased at a local bookstore