Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan Egan’s narrative is pretty confusing to say the least but the beauty of the story is really that the story is not like many other stories, a collection of interconnected stories that move back and forth in time.The novel begins with Sasha, a beautiful woman who’s a kleptomaniac, and then transitions to Bennie, her former boss and music industry executive.

By Jennifer Egan

Egan’s narrative is pretty confusing to say the least but the beauty of the story is really that the story is not like many other stories, a collection of interconnected stories that move back and forth in time.

The novel begins with Sasha, a beautiful woman who’s a kleptomaniac, and then transitions to Bennie, her former boss and music industry executive.  

From there the novel jumps back to Bennie’s teenage years, then progresses in time, but remains in the past from Bennie’s chapter.

Bennie and Sasha will never know much about each other – even though they’ve worked together for decades – but the reader comes to know them through various stories.

We get to know Lou, Bennie’s charismatic, misbehaving, skirt-chasing mentor during a harrowing African safari; Dolly, the PR mogul who places her own daughter in harm’s way; Jules, the ex-con journalist whose lunch with a Hollywood grade B actress goes terribly wrong; Ted Hollander, Sasha’s art-loving uncle, who travels to Naples to find her. Each will add a little something to the puzzle.

The dissolution of Bennie’s marriage from his, at-some-point-in-the-future ex-wife becomes the centre of things.   Bennie’s brother-in-law is also introduced in this chapter as a washed-up reporter who went to prison for assaulting a celebrity he interviewed.

A new character enters the mix, a failed publicist, who gets hired by a third-world dictator to remake his image.  She, La Doll, the failed publicist, wants the dictator to be seen with a faded celebrity.  

Of course, because things are so connected, that celebrity is the one whom Bennie’s brother-in-law assaulted.  

After this, there’s a chapter from the brother-in-law’s perspective that is written sort of as an article.
There’s examination of memory and exploration of our desire to remember ourselves in certain ways, and there is acknowledgment of the ways in which this desire leads us to reconstruct moments and memories to fit our purposes.

At the end Egan flashes forward about a decade into the future to wonder aloud about the effects technology will have on how we communicate and the language we’ll use to do it and what will happen in a world where no one ever really loses touch with anyone.
 
Yet none of their stories is told in chronological order, or even through flashbacks. Rather, time is revealed like the grooves of a record album, jumping from track to track in what appears to be no particular order.

As each character takes his or her own moment in the spotlight, he or she is desperate for a second chance and to hold off the approaching goon.

Note: A Visit from the Goon Squad is the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer prize for Fiction

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