Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan. A Visit from the Goon Squad. New York: Anchor Books, 2011.

R. Stuhr

As a Pulitzer Prize winner (and a "national best seller"), this is an already much written about book. In October, I heard Jennifer Egan read a chapter from this novel at the Free Library of Philadelphia. One of the qualities she talked about was the way each chapter shifts focus to talk about a character who appeared in a minor role in another chapter. At the time I was reading In the First Circle, which uses the same technique. So, I thought, well, interesting, but not new, Solzhenitsyn was way ahead of her. But, it was a good reading, and I bought a copy of Egan's book on my way out. I was not at all disappointed. The narrative, in the form of distinct chapters all connected by a consistent cast of characters, moves backwards and forwards in time. We see the characters from a variety of perspectives and at different points in their lives, but the spaces are not all filled in. Aging forever-young producers age and wither, as younger aspiring characters find their way into middle age.  Some remain true to their ideals, others sell out, still others seek a settled life after years of wandering. The excesses of the seventies and eighties fade and evolve into the excesses of the 21st century. Along with fashions and fetishes, technology remains in a state of revolution reaching all ages, bringing people closer together while at the same time creating buffers to provide distance. In the culminating chapter, Egan takes her readers into a Shteyngartesque not-so-distant future, in which the youngest downloader on record is three months old, connect and transmit are no longer meaningful concepts, and words such as friend, real, change, and story are "shucked of their meanings and reduced to husks." Everyone is looking for something, and maybe it is something that they can see, hear, and touch.

If you haven't yet read this novel, find a copy at your local library or book store.

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