Jennifer Egan: "Visit From the Goon Squad"


I wrote this review a year ago, and for some reason I never posted it, but I thought I ought to. Since then, Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer and the novel is now being transformed into an HBO series.

Do you re-read novels? I mean apart from the beloved novels of your teenage years, the ones that accompanied you through difficult times, the ones that allowed you simply to pass through the bad times unscathed? Let's face it, who ACTUALLY has time to re-read anything apart from scholars and students? Pauline Kael never watched a movie twice, simply because that two hours could be better spent broadening her film education (granted, she was blessed with an incredible memory, so she never forgot what she saw either).

All that said, as soon as I finished Visit from the Goon Squad, I wanted to read the whole thing again. This in itself is not a sign of quality, literary merit, scholarly interest or anything else (though the many, many awards this book has received demonstrates the book has plenty of that). I couldn't believe how deeply I connected with the book, despite the multiple narratives and characters. I am still astonished that Egan managed to maintain a commitment to human character while creating a structurally unique novel. A lot of literary fiction seems designed to keep the reader at arms length, and I found the opposite to be true in Goon Squad.

I love the idea that this book is so universally loved, but everyone has a different idea of what exactly it is. I read it as a novel with a bajillion different perspectives, but others have read it explicitly as a collection of interlinked short stories, and still others refer to it with the dreaded moniker of 'experimental' fiction. Still others don't even try to define it. Certainly I didn't even think of trying to characterize it until I saw so many reviews calling it a short story collection.

I've read Infinite Jest since I've read this one, and though i know a few people are going to whack me on the head, I think Goon Squad achieves what DFW aspired to, a quasi-comic dystopia that illustrates everything that is wrong, and everything that is beautiful about our contemporary malaise. But Egan achieves it with minimal words, while DFW was ultimately so maximal. He shows us everything, trusting us to separate the wheat of life from the chaff. Egan takes us straight there. It's two completely different styles, but in both of them, there's a deep understanding of humanity.

Oncoming Firsts:

First time I've ever read a book BEFORE it won the Pulitzer Prize! Good times.

For those of you who are interested (everyone)

Here's a link to the legendary Powerpoint chapter "Great Rock 'N Roll Pauses", complete with the relevant tunes that she writes of:


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2 Responses to “ Jennifer Egan: "Visit From the Goon Squad" ”

  1. I've got more time to re-read Goon Squad than Infinite Jest!

  2. So true. But I really want to re-read Infinite Jest! But then I'll have to surrender another month of reading anything else...


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