Monday, July 25, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad, 30/100

Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection? No one knows. But Jennifer Egan's book A Visit from the Goon Squad IS the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner.

I've been see-sawing on this book. Gorgeously written. But maybe a bit too "gotcha." I found myself saying out loud "this is completely unbelievable," and my usual reading material covers the adventures of wizards and dragons.

Egan's book is a collection of shorts, each with recurring characters, which blurs the line between novel and story collection. Where the genius comes in is in the structure. Each chapter takes us to a different POV, focusing on a different character, and to what appears to be a random point in the ultimate timeline. The chapters aren't chronological, which some reviewers have found a bit confusing and jarring, but which I found made the stories infinitely more interesting. (If you're reading it and are having some trouble piecing the timeline together, check out this rundown in questionland).

My beef came with how Egan ended many of the chapters. In several of them, she would insert a one-two punch to wrap it up -- making some revelation about a character's future that takes us away from the current time and POV into an almost omniscient POV -- which IS jarring, and made me want to stop reading altogether.

Ex: That nice chapter you just read about the boy and his father? Well, guess what, the boy kills himself when he gets older. KA-CHOW. The end. Next chapter!

Nevermind that a later chapter covers this (and much better, by the way).

But besides the unnecessary jumpiness inside the individual shorts, the structure was genius. In A Visit from the Goon Squad the goon is time. And with every page we're shown how we change over the years. How we're not the same person we were in 1992, or in chapter 3, or on page 59. When you see the change gradually, chronologically, the impact isn't as noticeable. But if there was a book of your life, and you read chapter 7 first, then chapter 2, then the backcover blurb...just how different would it look.

I didn't mark any passages. However there was one chapter that stood out in particular, "Great Rock and Roll Pauses," -- being made up entirely of PowerPoint slides. If you have a soft spot for music nerdom, charts and graphs, or Microsoft Office products, here's a video of the entire chapter:

No comments:

Post a Comment