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Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”

When I packed for my long weekend in Phoenix last week, I happened to stick Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” into my suitcase. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get to it, but you never know when a chaise lounge on a sunny patio will beckon.

Actually, I read it largely in bed and on the plane, but…loved it. And felt fairly virtuous reading it, since it allows me to check yet another Notable Book off of the list for this year.

A Visit from the Goon Squad” is written as a series of short stories with inter-related characters. Someone who is a minor character in one chapter (story) becomes the focus of another. Eventually, several characters show up in more than one place, and many voices speak. The setting generally is the music scene, often in New York, from the 1980’s to the 2020’s (the final story is set in the musical future).

The first story is about Sasha, who is an assistant to a music producer. She’s talking with her therapist about her kleptomania, and about how she supposedly feels about it. My experience reading novels with multiple perspectives is that the first character sticks with me longer, and I tend to always seek that first character in the rest of the novel. Sasha does re-appear.

A primary theme of this book is “How did I get to be so old?” Another, “I know I’m not an especially good person.” Another, “Is THIS the life I want to live?” Those could create a sad novel, but I didn’t feel that happening here. Nor did I get the feeling of being worn out by clever stories of people who fail. I wanted to keep reading.

What makes it Notable? Egan’s ability to craft the connections throughout the book, and her sense of how people view their own and others’ shortcomings.

I’ll recommend this to people who love the music scene, who are willing to stick with the short-stories-as-novel format, and to those who connect with the sense of time passing. I’d like to have a conversation with others who’ve read it, too.

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