A Visit From the Goon Squad is one of the most talked about books, currently. The biggest question is, was it worth the Pulitzer? Short answer, yes… long answer, well, yes but only for what it does, rather than what it is. What it is is a book that is grossly misleading, particularly in regards to the blurb. Upon reading the back of the book, one would think that you’re about to read a novel about music mogul, Bennie Salazar and his life in the music industry.
Wrong. What it is is a showcase of literary talent that drapes over the bare bones of a story about said music mogul. In fact Salazar only appears in a handful of the chapters and the rest revolve around the people that surround him in his life. His PA, ex wife, her brother, a movie star loosely entangled with them all and many others. In fact one of the later chapters features someone who briefly appears in the opening chapter, and in only that one.
You could go as far as saying that Goon Squad is actually a book of short stories that all intertwine with each other and around that one man. Regardless of its structure, Jennifer Egan has created a raft of characters that each have a quirky or intriguing personality that allows you to dive into the pages with fervour.
It’s interesting to see how each character moves quietly throughout those different chapters. It’s as if somebody created a book in the same vein as the current wash of American serial dramas. You could look at each chapter as an episode within the overarching drama serial that everyone tunes in to watch.
Egan has created something very unique with Goon Squad. Not only is it a different beast to many other novels out there in terms of plot structure, but also, in terms of writing style. It’s almost as if Jennifer Egan sat down and set herself a mission to write each chapter in a completely different style.
Literally every chapter differs from the others in writing style. From the infamous 70+ page Power Point presentation to first person, to third person, to articles, to chapters written with nothing but slang in mind. But each chapter fits the character that it revolves around. For example, the chapter that contains a lot of slang speak is set in the 70’s within a group of teenagers. Where rather than using the phrasing, “he said”, Egan uses the “real world” speak of teenagers and writes “and then he goes”.
It jars slightly, but fits wonderfully. And I can’t move on from this without referring back to that Power Point chapter. Written from the perspective of a young girl who has an autistic brother. Her life is broken, scattered and above all, random. The Power Point structure fits wonderfully because it allows Egan to move from subject to subject much like a young mind would. It’s utterly distracting, but it’s meant to be.
Beneath it all, Egan writes a solid message about the changing times and how we as a society focuses on the movement of technology and how we interact with it. This is promoted most in the final chapter, set in the future. Unfortunately, despite the clever writing of said chapter, it’s an anti-climactic ending and one that doesn’t fit with the rest of the book.
Goon Squad deserves praise for stepping out of the box and being something very different. If you want to read a book whose plot moves from A to B along a traditional structure, then there’s millions to choose from. But, Egan wanted to create something unique and wonderful and in my mind, she has.
A Visit From the Goon Squad is available now