Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad


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.

Rating:
Snuggle - Skewer
 

Pub. Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Anchor
Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0307477477

Source: Purchased at a local bookstore

21 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I'm planning on reading this for the GoodReads Book Club and a book club at our local bookstore for next month. At least, it's not too long of a book anyway :).

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  2. This one doesn't seem AT ALL an Eva book, lol.

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  3. I just bought this one after many, many raves - your review has tempered my enthusiasm, which I think is a very good thing. So thank you! I'll still read it but at least now I won't expect to be the best thing ever.

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  4. I couldn't even finish it. Before this and March, I was doing pretty well on my Pulitzer reading. Anyway, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who didn't love this book.

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  5. I have heard some really wonderful things about Eagan's worth but haven't had the chance to actually read anything by her. It sounds like I shouldn't start with this one.

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  6. Thank you for supporting my decision to skip this one.

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  7. Unfinishedperson,

    I hope you have better luck with it overall. There were some chapters that were just stunning, but I didn't love it as a whole.

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  8. Eva, I should've known it wasn't really an Andi book either. See what I get for ignoring instinct?

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  9. Meghan,

    I've seen surprisingly little in the blogosphere, but maybe I wasn't paying attention early on. I've seen a good deal of "meh." Those reviews tempered my expectations a bit, so I wasn't too surprised to not be bowled over.

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  10. Shannon, you have no idea how much I love hearing that! If you couldn't finish it, no wonder I didn't love it! I haven't had any luck with March either, by the way.

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  11. Jennifer, I'd start elsewhere. I'm hoping to have far better luck with The Keep. I hope!

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  12. Jill, I do what we can. Though this one might've been fun to skewer as a team. Certainly, it's no Freedom. Thank GOD!

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  13. I do what I can.

    Damn typos.

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  14. I'm really hesitant to read this one as I'm guessing that I'm not going to care for it all that much. But I still want to read it just because. If that makes any sense :) And The Keep is weird. Interesting but definitely weird. I hope you get the chance to read it at some point just so I can hear your opinion of it.

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  15. Samantha, I totally know what you mean. I was kind of in the same boat -- had my doubts but took the chance anyway. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes not so much.

    I love weird, so I'm excited about The Keep.

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  16. Sorry you didn't love it! I did, but I'm glad I read it before all the hype. I thought it was original and yet really dealt with emotions all of us have. Of course I'm turning 40 this month too so very much identified with the "aging" theme. There were times I felt it confusing or WTF (like the part with the powerpoints) and was impressed at how Egan brought it all together for me. Have you read Invisible Circus? I don't recall liking Look at Me very much but loved Invisible Circus when it came out.

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  17. BookStop, I think I'm more impressed with her writerly abilities than the actual characters. I also thought it was brilliant the way she brought all of them together. I even LOVED the PowerPoint portion. Emotionally, it just didn't knock me over enough to be in love. On the formalist side, she didn't quite show off enough to impress me in the same way that C by Tom McCarthy impressed me. At the end of the day, I often think it's more frustrating for a book to be just "meh" than if I'd absolutely loved it or absolutely hated it. I want a strong reaction to the books I read, so I'm pretty disappointed when I'm impressed by the writing but the book ultimately falls flat. Does that make sense? :)

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  18. Glad to find this blog and Egan's Goon brought me to you. I almost put down in the Africa story but the book came around for me. I'm much more on the love side of love-meh-skewer. I was like "oh no" on the Power Point and then I was laughing. Laughed more listening to the pauses on the Egan site which has the power point up.

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  19. Torg, thanks for stopping by! I actually liked the Africa story a whole lot. The Dolly sections -- FAR less. I actually skipped one of her sections if I remember correctly.

    I did think the PPT was pretty darn brilliant. Definitely a bright spot in the book. I love that Egan has the pauses on her website! Will have to listen. :D

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  20. I have to admit that this one kind of intimidates me. I'm not sure I will "get it" or even like it, if I do. I'm glad to read a review that doesn't give it high praise. I might be able to give it a try now!

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  21. I have started this book twice and STILL haven't finished it...

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