I left a few weeks pass between today, when I’m writing this post, and the day I finished reading Jennifer Egan’s amazing novel – or should I say experimental narrative, since she herself isn’t really sure how to categorize this book.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” is above all a masterfully crafted piece of writing. It seems to me that each sentence is impeccable, as if it had been revised and polished over and over again, until it couldn’t be more perfect. Jennifer not only succeeded in baffling me with new words on every page, but she amazed me with the specter of human emotion she so precisely described with a single image, a short description or even with things left unsaid.
I love the structure of the book. First we meet Sasha, a beautiful, troubled girl who is seeing a therapist because she can’t help stealing things for the thrill of it. While on a blind date with Alex who can’t make up his mind whether he’s bored with her or intrigued, she mentions her boss, Bennie, a well-known rock music records producer who sprays pesticide under his armpits.
The next chapter is about Bennie. We see him in a different light, with his own troubled marriage, uncertain relationship with his son and unrealized passion for music. In one of his nostalgic flashbacks he mentions his high-school punk life and his old punk friends.
The next chapter is about his friends, narrated from the point of view of the most stable one among them, who watches her best friend give head to a 20-30 year older man in a club full of people, and tears pour out of her, as she realizes something is irrevocably damaged, broken.
The next chapter is about that 20-30 year old man and his chase after fast life, drinks, girls, a world without any emotional attachments and any considerations for the people around him who want so desperately to be loved by him.
Egan continues to follow the trend of following up on the life of a character only mentioned in passing in the previous chapter, which reminds me of that game “tags” or “you’re it” or whatever it’s called. Each of the characters has his or her own private hell going on and it is heart-breaking to see how they deal with it. Actually, I think most of them deal with life and time passing admirably. And time’s a goon, as one of her character says. A goon that tricked them all, but they keep balancing, in spite of it.
I love the author’s beautiful sentences, surprising comparisons (“He looks tired, like someone walked on his skin and left footprints”, or “It’s turning out to be a bad day, a day when the sun feels like teeth”), experimenting with the narrative style (I feel like she went through all possible points of view and she even wrote a wonderfully engaging chapter in form of a PowerPoint presentation), and especially the way she knows her characters so well, down to their “Big Dipper of red moles around the bellybutton”, and the way she cares for them so deeply.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” is one of those great novels that will certainly survive the test of time (that cruel goon).