A Visit From The Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Written by American novelist Jennifer Egan, the book is, in essence, a complicated yet interconnected series of stories. But it’s not a short story collection.
There is no predominant story arc or plot but the book revolves around the same set of characters, albeit at different stages in their lives. A Visit From The Goon Squad is by definition extremely fragmented, both in the temporal and spatial sense. The Goon in Goon Squad refers to ‘time’, as a character puts it, and it flits all over the place. The narrative moves from the Punk era of the 60’s to a technological dystopia sometime in the distant future, where smartphones have taken ‘newspeak’ to the next generation.
But nothing moves in order. There is no order. Everything is out of place, and what was important in one chapter may be forgotten in the next. Events are foreshadowed, thought back on, and re-visited, perhaps hinting at the cyclical nature of memory, or time, of our lives or, you know, the universe. Yet through all this the book manages an almost perfect sense of coherency.
To put it simply: it works.
The fragmentation reminds me of an album. No two tracks are the same. They may be told from different point of views, exploring a different scene or relationship or whatever. But at the end of the day they all fit into something bigger. They all, together, mean something. Because so much of Goon Squad revolves around music, I think the metaphor fits.
Sasha is a kleptomaniac with a dark past, who is probably the most significant character in the novel. There’s Bennie Salazar, a music mogul, who becomes disenchanted with his company, a sick, over-weight rock-star who’d rather go out with a bang rather than a whimper, a young journalist with too much ambition, a movie star, publicist, executive, and even an aching teenage punk covered in freckles. They are living, dreaming, beating hearts. Tiny lives caught up in one big net.
What’s special about Goon Squad is this set of characters; how fragile they are, how desperate, and how little control they have over anything.
A Visit From The Goon Squad is a memorable book, an unconventional, uncompromising look at life and time and music and everything else.