Jennifer Egan's several novels and collections of short stories have always been well received, and this book will be no exception. It is a novel, but each chapter holds it own. Like a devious love child of Colum McCann and Bret Easton Ellis, the whole fabric of these characters' lives slides together piece by ugly piece. Egan is a little less heart-wrenching than McCann and a little more moralistic than Ellis, but the total package here is one that will delight many kinds of readers.
The strange treat in this postmodern ensemble is newcomer narrator Roxana Ortega. A veteran of the soap opera scene, occasional improv comic, and supporting actress in films like Miss Congeniality 2, Ortega brings a surprisingly bold and wonderfully solid set of voices to Egan's cast of haunted characters. She begins all breathy and languid with Sasha, the eternally distant and bored kleptomaniac, but then draws listeners closer and closer, starting with the forlorn but gruff Bennie, once a handsome punk rocker and now an aging exec trying to stay on top of the scene. The most delightful segment is Ortega's deftly poetic rendering of little Alison's diary, which in the novel appears as a PowerPoint presentation.
Here's the thing about punk rock: there is always some kind of adventure around the next corner, until one day you wake up old, cold, and sold. This novel contains a lion trying to rip someone's face off, an autistic boy who collects songs that have moments of silence in them, a genocidal dictator taking photos with a burnt-out actress, a bag full of East River fish juice, a couple of wicked awesome lap steel and slide guitar solos, and a truckload of smartphone devices. As time marches forward, backward, and sideways in Egan's portrait of a once-cool music empire now dwarfed by modern technology and fading fast, Ortega gracefully jumps from generation to generation, wondering what went wrong for these people and try to help them get it back. Megan Volpert
Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2011
National Book Critics Circle Award, Fiction, 2011
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction!
Jennifer Egan brings her unique gifts as a novelist and short story writer to a compulsively listenable narrative that centers on Bennie Salazar, an aging punk rocker and record executive, and the beautiful Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs.
Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, but the listener does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other people whose paths intersect with theirs in the course of nearly 50 years, in settings as various as the San Francisco 1970s music scene; the demimonde of Naples; New York at many points, from the pre-internet 90s to a postwar future; and a catastrophic safari in the heart of Africa.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about time, about survival, about our private terrors and how we overcome them or don't, and what happens when we fail to rebound. Brilliant, sly, suspenseful, and always surprising - one of our boldest authors at the height of her powers.
©2010 Jennifer Egan. All rights reserved. (P)2010 BBC Audiobooks America
"Readers will be pleased to discover that the star-crossed marriage of lucid prose and expertly deployed postmodern switcheroos that helped shoot Egan to the top of the genre-bending new school is alive in well in this graceful yet wild novel." (Publishers Weekly)
“Pitch perfect. . . . Darkly, rippingly funny. . . . Egan possesses a satirist’s eye and a romance novelist’s heart.” (The New York Times Book Review)
“A new classic of American fiction.” (Time)
This novel is made up of what at first seem like merely interlocking stories. The underlying theme is music and authenticity, and the way people in modern life cling to music as a way to hold onto what feels genuine. Some stories are set in the early 1980s, some are set in the future. In time, you come to see how the characters are more closely connected that they seemed initially. But each chapter still stands on its own, except maybe for one that's written in PowerPoint (yes!), and that one works a bit better in print. The narrator is fine, nothing special, but the novel really sneaks up on you, and it ends up feeling like it's about everything, in the way really great novels do.
I agree with other reviewers -- this narrator is OK but not great. But it doesn't matter how great she is, the PowerPoint chapter (12, second to last) is a failure in audio. It it is worth timing your "reading" to be near a computer for it. The on-line version available at the author's web site is in color and includes sound clips from the songs that are referenced and is by far the preferred medium for this chapter. The black and white PDF available from audible is much less entertaining and captures less of the author's intent. The audio version collapses into boring nothingness for the last 3 slides in the PowerPoint -- they are graphs, and the narrator "reads" every data point! This is ten minutes of meaningless tedium. The producers of the audio book deserve a big fail for not coming up with a better solution to that.
As to the book, my response was meh through much of it. I could recognize her talent as a writer, but found it hard to really "get into" disjointed stories that were about different characters and hopped around in time. After I got to the end (including the PowerPoint chapter) I could see what she was about, and liked it better on reflection than as I was going through it.
The title of this book refers to goon squads, which are used to attack and intimidate people. The author uses the title as a metaphor for time, which according to her is as ruthless as a goon squad. Time is a thug that steals your youth, energy, creativity and finally, your life.
This book is playfully structured like a record album but instead of 13 songs we get 13 intertwining short stories narrated by 13 different people. Because of the many narratives, it’s hard to summarize the entire book. Each story is a snapshot from a pivotal moment in a narrator’s life. Each character connects, in some way or another, to other characters in the overall story. The stories are not told in chronological order; they jump to different decades and different cities.
Many of the characters are disturbingly self-destructive; others are predatory and sleazy. The poor choices each character makes at a young age will steer them on sordid trajectories and the resulting repercussions will reverberate long into their lives as adults and old age and into the lives of their children. I realize this sounds extremely depressing but surprisingly, it’s not! In fact, at times, it’s wickedly funny. I attribute this to the clever writing of Jennifer Egan. The humor in the book juxtaposes the debauchery and it makes for a fast, clean read.
Every character in this book struggles with change, time passing and aging. The author accelerates and intensifies that struggle by presenting it in an industry obsessed with youth. The music industry revolves around the culture of youth. More than any other art form, rock n’ roll clings to a “live fast, die young” mentality. Don’t suffer through old age. At one point a washed up record executive’s daughter tells him, “This is the music business. Five years is five HUNDRED years.”
Our time here is short; we all have regrets, all of us. The one thing we all have in common is we are all going to get old eventually. Hopefully we will also grow up before we grow old.
Jennifer Egan (don't miss her 2007 THE KEEP) has created a map of trail-offs in A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. It's a study of once-connected characters' paths in, around and out of the curious corners of the b-grade music industry. These are compelling personalities whose respective journeys take darkening swerves past youthful dreams into some very grown-up ditches -- or just coast to sad standstills at bleak intersections. The problem in the audio presentation is Roxana Ortega's narration, which seems to be calculated as a mall-chick's dreamy reminiscence, a latter-day Valley Girl on a determined talking streak. She strays into the "many voices" effort, and her stereotypic stabs at male characters' voices hit you like blunt objects falling off a shelf of baseball trophies. She carries in some mispronunciations, too, including Ralph Fiennes' first name. So what do we need in a narrator? Listen to the work of Campbell Scott and Laurie Anderson, two of our most accomplished theatre artists. They read their books and respect their listeners' intelligence. They don't try to play each character, no cast-of-thousands arrays of funny voices, no overlays of "'tude" on the work. Clearly, Ortega isn't untalented. And it may be that she was directed toward this one-woman-show mistake. When did narrating a novel turn into a job for Anna Deavere Smith? Above all, note that Egan's book deserves a listen for its own serious merits. Don't skip A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD because of Ortega's narration, just "listen through it" whenever you can, to hear Egan's own eloquence at work.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
'Sure, everything is ending, but not yet.' This is probably, technically, a 3.5 star book, but I enjoyed it at the cellular-level, so I'm rounding up.
Positives: Great characters, interesting narrative, funky structure, great prose. Negatives: A little too self-aware. In many ways reading Egan is like reading a chopped up, skinny jeans version of Jonathan Franzen. In many ways that makes this novel better than 'Freedom' (a novel that shares a lot of 'Good Squad's' post-9/11, hipster-NY resonance) but not always.
There was one chapter that even reminded me a little bit of Chuck Klosterman and another chapter that gave me a sharp DFW vibe. Anyway, overall an enjoyable read.
This book is brilliantly conceived and almost perfectly written. Egan's her own person, but she reminds me of Veronica Geng as a comparable talent. What a treat is was to go with her into her imagination.
This is one of the best books I have ever read (or listened to)! The character development is exceptional, and the interconnections between characters as the story shifts in time, is brilliant. The narrator is very gifted, making each character distinct. It is a complicated story and I had to listen carefully so as not to miss any of the subtle threads that connected the various scenes. Very, very well done. I understand why she won the Pulitzer for this one!
reader who hates the new look of the webpage (which has stayed really bad)
You might recognize some of the stories from magazines. While the odd circumstances seem to standout, the stories to me seem to be about actual humans. The series of stand-alone but yet interconnected stories adds another level and forces the listener to pay attention. While I have heard better narrators, this one is not really that bad- very clear and not distracting which is about 90% of all I expect anyway. The only complaint was that in one story, her voice conveyed a very snarky female voice for what was a male narrator but otherwise competent.
Typical cat lady: lazy, sings off-key, craves spicy bloody marys.
I was mesmerized by the blase sexiness of this story. Ms. Egan's lyrical attention to detail perfectly describes the complex yet recognizable modern life of the handful of people we get to know from the Goon Squad. Great silliness and sadness--and Roxana Ortega is excellent as the narrator...truly speaks right into your ear.
What an imaginative work! It took my thick brain a bit of time to get the picture. I am sure I would benefit from a second reading w/o worrying about who is doing what to whom! This was one of the most creative works I have had the pleasure to try to figure out while enjoying the character struggles that are so much the same for all of us to some degree. It did seem like so segmented chapters put together, but it is a book that I would (do) strongly recommend to friends. Thank you Jenifer
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