Warning: Bold proclamation ahead, proceed with caution. Thus far, six months into the year, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is my second favorite novel of 2010 (Peter Bognanni’s The House of Tomorrow is my favorite so far).
A novel comprised of linked short stories that circle around record exec Bennie Salazar and his assistant Sasha, A Visit from the Goon Squad is inventive, engaging, and fun to read. What makes Egan so wonderful is that she manages to be experimental and fresh while never making the reader question whether what she’s doing is total bullshit or totally genius. It’s 100% total genius. The kind of writing and innovation that makes you wonder, how does she get away with this?
One of the stories is told entirely as PowerPoint slides. It’s a story that’s kind of sad and kind of funny and since it comes later in the book and furthers the adventures of two earlier characters (Sasha and Drew) wholly satisfying. At first it feels like a gimmick, but as I turned the page on each new slide and the story slowly unwound, I was all “wow, this is brilliant.”
While these stories spin out from Bennie Salazar, it’s Sasha who steals the show for me. Every story that features her in some ancillary way is my one of my favorites. A kleptomaniac with a bad case of wanderlust we get to see Sasha at different points in her life: a rebellious teen lost in Naples, a twentysomething college student, a thirtysomething trying to find her way through life and romance in New York City, and a mother. While all these stories are not specifically about Sasha she’s the thread that runs through them.
This is not to give short shrift to Bennie, he’s interesting in his own light. The final story that takes place in 2020 when Bennie is in his sixties in nothing short of breathtaking. Awash in a world run by marketing, specifically marketing to the preverbal set (pointers), where people are more comfortable speaking through text messages (in text speak) through their ever-present handsets, Bennie tries to bring people together through music. It’s the kind of story with a culminating scene that will give you goosebumps. So wonderful.
It’s always so hard to write about a book you really loved. I’m not entirely sure why. I can’t pinpoint with a few words what was so awesome about it. It might be the way Egan seamlessly blends so many writing styles (there’s a second person story, first person, the powerpoint, a magazine article) without ever seeming too writerly. She stays true to telling stories without coming off as clever. It’s a wonder to behold because oftentimes it seems when authors get “experimental” it comes off as edgy for the sake of edginess and the story gets lost in the craft.
That doesn’t happen here, and that might be exactly why I loved this one. Each story was better than the one before it. Just read it. It’s amazing.