A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Mike’s review

Finished DFW one day, started this the next. Rare for me to attack books so quickly anymore.

Go with it … there may come a day when you hate reading everything (in my case because I have to read for work and so reading is nothing but work. This happens to me about 2x a year but passes pretty quickly). 

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Here’s what I meant regarding Vendela Vida, NYC and 9/11: page 9, minimal character development, no real plot yet, a bit shoehorned: “But she hated the neighborhood at night without the World Trade Center, whose blazing freeways of light had always filled her with hope.” Clearly an after-the-fact metaphor/image as no one constantly (character worked in the neighborhood 12 years) feels that way about a building they see everyday. And this is copyright 2010 and a 35 year old protagonist who doesn’t (shouldn’t?) think the whole world is about her, unlike a college kid.

LOL indeed: “no one feels that way about a building they see everyday.”

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“40 minutes with Kitty” is insufferable. This is the chapter written as gossip column. How did this ever get published standalone, without the rest of the book to couch it? Satire of a completely vapid existence that can only be satired by being even more vapid. Which is difficult to read. And then to add the hoity-toity footnoted pretentiousness. Ugh. A cesspool of personal hate-triggers.

When the tone of voice of the writing starts to bug but an end to it is in sight, I tend to skim for main plot points. I also hate footnotes in novels. So this section was published on its own in Harper’s? One thing that keeps becoming more apparent to me (as I become more crotchety in my old age) is that when it comes to art, there’s no accounting for taste… 

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Why did this win a Pulitzer? My question isn’t to say it’s a bad book, but what sets it apart? Are Pulitzers like Oscars? Are there triggers that always get votes? Playing a mentally challenged person, period pieces for Oscars. Is it the somewhat adventurous/non-linear structure and theme of aging?

Good questions that I cannot answer. I’ve read a few reviews of the book and I still can’t really tell what qualifies it as a Pulitzer. I hope it is because of the experimentation but I don’t know. Anything that defies norms usually gets marginalized rather than mainstreamed so in that case it’s a good thing that people were talking about the unusual structure.

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Powerpoint chapter. Before I got here Joe Hill tweeted “But I would argue it’s [form] important – desperately important – for prose works as well. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD is a triumph of form.” And I was wondering what the hell he was talking about. And I’m still kinda wondering. Short, sweet paragraphs would have accomplished the same thing (if not worked even better) than the charts. Seriously. Which means I’m gonna have to say it’s a little gimmicky. If it can be done simpler, it should be.

We’ve touched on these charts a bit before.

There is absolutely no reason for these charts to be fucked on an e-reader. If anything, they should be easier. No intensive page-flipping and ill-cut, difficult to navigate paper, no awkward turning of the book.

GIMMICKY~YES. I think it was intended to show characterization, though, which is a first for me as reader. I appreciate it for the surprise. I will say that my first-gen Kindle’s screen is kinda like an etch-a-sketch and really doesn’t navigate much better than one so that’s probably why it looked like crap on it. If I reread it on the Kindle Fire it might be better.

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This musical-dystopian future is annoying. “Look out! Music’s gonna be for babies! The soul is gone! Rock N Roll is dead, man!” (Full disclosure: the last time I put on Big Black I finally realized vinyl sounds like a distorted bag of shit. Other than that, I can’t remember the last time I choose to listen to music. I feel nothing.)

Mike I expect this lack of music passion to clear up soon. I would fear you are on the verge of an automaton transformation but I will hold out hope that you soon are cured! (And yes, vinyl probably not the best way to get pure audio injection: lots of dust crackles and the “warmth” of warps, etc.)

Know what would have been a less annoying last chapter than removing all the vowels and saying “kids these days?” Just the words “I am old and scared. The past has not prepared me for the future.” And I say this as someone who feels old and scared.

End chapter, in which Earth’s orbit has changed, trees bloom in January and it’s 89 degrees in winter in NYC is no more than 20 years in the future.

But it’s still kinda a hopeful end of book, which is annoying as the whole thing is a slog of time will catch up to you and you will become tired, old and die. The hope feels unearned. I don’t know, maybe the only endings I’m happy with are total oblivion.

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Val’s Review

This bestseller hit me like some flying bricks at the end, which swirled too fast like water down the toilet hole at the end of a flush.  Shortish, I read it quickly.

Separate stories coming together in one novel ending is one of my favorite constructions. Egan is crafty and handles language well so that the weaving works and rarely stutters (reading in ebook format makes it difficult to go back to earlier sections and refresh brain (who is that character again, etc.). She used the art of giving clues without being explicit.

The author approaches taboos and airs them – the thrill of kleptomania, twisted logic of a rapist, tension between an uncle and niece, an angry bisexual death suicide, autism, humanity’s future and pros/cons of technology.

The way the whole viral concert promo thing went down bugged me. It made me realize how dishonest things like PR, fakebook, etc. can be, just another advertisement … who can you trust?

I always enjoy a scifi twist, in this case, predicting the near future of today’s human: offering hope in alternative energy solar shields at the end, the intelligence of the children …. A happy-ish ending gives readers a warm glow, which everybody likes, right? (Except Mike, see above.)

The Powerpoint storytelling in the final chapter was refreshing and weird (also addressed above).

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One thought on “A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

  1. Pingback: World War Z by Max Brooks | The Heart of Literature

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