Book Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad
I picked up A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan with high hopes. After all, this book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. People LOVE this book. The cover brags about the dozen awards and those judging panels couldn't be wrong, right? Well, it's bound to happen. Lists are off. Opinions differ. Awards are questionable.
This book just didn't work for me.
The writing was good, sometimes great, but the structure was ridiculously convoluted, the characters were largely unsympathetic, and many of the literary devices felt forced.
Coming off of last week's fantastic read, this book was a chore.
For instance, one character like goes like this and then like the other character is like no way, like really?
Like you lost me.
In another part of the novel two characters communicate via text and so the reader is subjected to this kind of dialog/punctuation:
“th blu nytth stRs u can't cth hum tht nevr gOs awy”
At one point a 12-year-old girl weighs in on her family situation via a powerpoint presentation. Clever and, for a powerpoint, the slides look pretty good. But it still felt inauthentic.
However, since I've never written a prize-winning novel or prize-winning anything, I should at least point out the redeeming parts.
First, the characters make some funny social commentary:
“Everybody sounds stoned, because they're e-mailing people the whole time they're talking to you."
Definitely. I have been on the receiving end of those calls!
When describing a millennial Egan writes
“She was clean: no piercings, tattoos, or scarifications. All the kids were now. And who could blame them, Alex thought, after watching three generations of flaccid tattoos droop like moth-eaten upholstery over poorly stuffed biceps and saggy asses?"
Ha! Yes, I think future generations will scorn the tattoos of their parents in the same way beehive hairstyles went out of vogue (for a while!).
At one point a character is talking about his life as a janitor and comparing his situation to that of his friend who works in an executive office:
"I felt no shame in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all.”
Yes. There were many, many paragraphs and insights that work. But the telling of the story interfered with the story itself. I found this ironic when, near the end of the book, one character says this:
“There are so many ways to go wrong. All we've got are metaphors, and they're never exactly right. You can never just Say. The. Thing.”
I wanted this book to do more of just Saying. The. Thing. and less, like mkg m3 gs thngs wr gng.