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)
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
I stuck with this book for several chapters but finally dropped it. This seems like one of those highbrow award winners that lacks a good story. This may be judged to be top notch in terms of craft (I note that other reviewers admire how the story comes together... but I would have needed to get to the last chapter to understand that). I didn't feel like listening to a whole story I didn't find interesting to admire the job Egan does tying these stories together. I put this in the same category as Franzen's book "Freedom" - too much navel gazing. I read to enjoy and learn. Apart from the opening chapter about the kleptomaniac, from whom I learned a lot, neither was happening here.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Egan is a talented writer, and I'm glad I picked this one up. The book is less of a novel and more a collection of vignettes about a loosely affiliated group of characters, many (but not all) of whom are connected to the music business in some way. The stories switch voices, perspectives, locations, and decades, but the same themes run beneath all of them -- getting old, getting off-track, finding that the world is passing you by. Most of the pieces in the book are marvels of well-realized characters, poignancy, humor, and subtlety. I liked the way in which characters in one story appear again in later chapters, seen from the point of view of someone else.
That said, I was a little disappointed that the book wasn't a novel. The interconnected histories of the various characters certainly lend themselves to a more traditional narrative arc, and I wouldn't have minded spending more time getting to know Sasha, Bernie, and Scott directly -- the focus on them from different peripheral viewpoints gets to feel a little gimmicky. Still, I can't really judge a work by the story the author chose not to tell. There is something poignant and beautiful about the fleeting connections between each piece, the way each encompasses its own glittering shard of time.
Audiobook note: the narrator is hit-or-miss, nailing some of the many voices in the book but overdoing others. Still, her renditions were competent enough that they didn't get in the way of my enjoyment.
Really struggled to keep going through this one. Most disappointing investment of book time in several years. Just didn't do it for me. Now on to something hopefully better.
I know that this novel won't be everyone's plate of cupcakes, but I found it exciting to listen to, especially after the first couple of chapters when I cottoned on to the structure. (This wouldn't have been an issue with a physical book.) Shifting points of view, multiple narrators, timelines that extend into the past and into the future: love it or hate it, we're living in a post-modern world:) Egan does a great job at keeping all the balls in the air, and providing sufficient clues to the reader as to time, place, and who did what to whom. Her characters are complex and flawed and exasperating at times, but I found their stories interesting, and I enjoyed Egan's darkly humorous view of our times in America. The narrator does a nice job, and my only complaint was a confusing sound effect in one of the later chapters, which, again, wouldn't have been an issue if I had a page, electronic or paper, in front of me.
Oh, how I tried to get through this. Hated the reader, with her breathy whisper and heartily fake male voices. Hated the pretentious writing. All I can say is that I saw a young and fatally hip guy reading this book on a crowded subway who tried to beat an elderly woman to an empty seat. He seemed to be enjoying it....
Like nothing I have ever read or listened to. A series of short stories that are sometimes related to one another - each remarkably different and thought provoking. Although there is a general theme of sad, self-absorbed, and disconnected people, most of them are engaging and interesting. The narration of Ortega is very good.
While the author brilliantly manages to switch between voices, decades, perspectives and writing styles, the narrator doesn't manage to keep up. Ortega simply doesn't have the range necessary to pull a book like this off. Would have been much better if read by a larger cast, as was done in
Let the Great World Spin by Colum Mcmann
Ortega does an amazing job of getting the characters on the page in this complicated and beautiful novel. I have not been this blown away by a book in forever.
Both the Audio and Kindle versions are equally strong and work well together.
Goon and Olive Kitteridge are similar being made up of free standing stories that also make up a novel. But there is a difference, the Olive stories work best read as arranged by the author. Whereas time is a goon, here (and presumably elsewhere) music is an ally. The Goon's format resembles a record album with parts A and B. The chapters, like songs on an album, are standalone narratives rather than parts of a coherent whole yet they are inherently connected. Each tells part of the story from the viewpoint of a different character; some (for example, the fourth one) from the viewpoint of multiple characters. The narrative is sometimes in the past tense, sometimes in the present, sometimes first person, sometimes third person and once (chapter ten), second person. We are free to read the stories as edited or at random like a playlist on shuffle.
Roxana Ortega makes us hear and see the characters at different ages and circumstances.
Instead of seeing a hoped for old flame leaving her NYC Downtown apartment, a young lively woman unknown to the two former loves and the reader opens and walks out the door.
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Jennifer Egan reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives other characters whose paths intersect from the 1970s through 2020s. The Trickster-Time's impact on body and memory, the Music in one's life, and the possibility for reconnection are this terrific book's themes.
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