The Blurb (from GoodReads):
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.
Doesn't really tell you a whole lot, does it? And, I promise you, this blurb does not prepare you for the experience.
|Author Jennifer Egan|
Photo courtesy of SFGate.com
The question that people keep posing, though, is: Is it really a novel? Or is it a collection of short stories?
In my not-so-humble opinion, I'm going to go out on a limb and call it a novel. I really believe it is, though it stretches the boundaries of what the traditional definition entails. All the stories revolve around either Sasha or Bennie. The exceptions are, perhaps, chapters 4 and 5, in which I find no clear, direct connection, but only a tangential (in the mathematical sense of touching at one point, not in the conversational sense in which something is an off-shoot) way.
The way Egan weaves the individual stories, though, made me want to keep reading despite the initial disjunction between the stories. I had been forewarned about this apparent disunity by reading my friends' reviews on GoodReads, so I felt prepared, and I think this helped in my appreciation of the offering. If I had gone in to reading this without that knowledge, I might have been irritated by it as well.
|Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons|
My only real complaint about the book is about how the stories stack together. I love the increased pace that runs throughout the book, which I believe culminates in chapter 12 "Great Rock and Roll Pauses". This chapter is powerful, not only in its plot and characters and emotional thread, but also in how it's presented: it's a visual narrative, created as a slide show diary entry from the POV of Sasha's daughter. This is, in fact, my favorite story of the book (with chapter 10, "Out of Body", as a close second). My complaint actually stems from the final story, which, after such a powerful chapter 12, seems to fall flat. I didn't feel the emotional resonance that had echoed through each of the previous stories, raising to concert levels in chapter 12. Perhaps my eardrums couldn't atune themselves to the acoustic guitar of chapter 13 after the amplified light show. Either way, it felt anti-climactic at best, and left an unsavory residue to associate with the book as a whole.
Bummer, because, otherwise, I really loved the book.
The bottom line: Read this book. Be prepared for a non-traditional novel experience. And let yourself be carried along for the ride. It's worth it.
What other non-traditionally structured novels have you read?