A Visit From the Goon Squad: 2 Jennifers & A Gem
Jennifer Egan is not new. In fact, she’s been strutting her stuff with all the cool kids–Harper’s, New Yorker, New York Times Mag–for a while now.
But she’s new to me.
In an era of the blockbuster authors like Franzen or Larsson, or the fresh new finds such as Harding (Tinkers) or Gordon (new National Book Award winner), a subtle but accomplished author is welcome.
I get a lot of fringe benefits from running BookSnob. You know, the New York Times calling for comment, authors ringing me on the cell during weekends.
Phsaw, it can be tiring.
A girl has *got* to set boundaries, you know.
But the best of all is that I still have time for friends (and even strangers) to foist their beloved titles on me and tell me I really should read it. The loot I get is books. It’s a good deal.
A hat tip to my new friend Jennifer K. who cajoled her husband into carrying back a signed copy of the Goon Squad from her friend the author. It made the journey with a ripe persimmon on a flight back from New York. She apologized for the sticky spine. I was delighted.
Thanks Jennifer K. It was very sweet.
And thanks Jennifer E. Because I really dug your book.
Goon Squad is a collection of stories (and even a powerpoint chapter, which trust me is very clever and funny) which hang together to make a novel. Remember Olive Kitteridge? Yes, kind of like that. Except there are a few differences. In Olive Kitteridge you learn all about Olive from the eyes of those around her. She is in her late 60s, or even older, and in a reflective look back on her life.
Goon Squad is a cast of characters who are facing their own troubles and are connected by six degrees of separation. The common thread? Some connection to Bernie Salazar, a near washed up music executive or Sasha, his young kleptomaniac assistant. But you learn about each of the characters equally, follow them across years and place. And many of them are in their middle age. They are in the train wreck at this very moment.
The phrase “A visit from the goon squad” is a euphemism for growing old. So you watch these characters remember bright youthful days of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Their mediocrity in this era is painful in comparison.
I read this book weeks ago, but I can tell you I am still taken by fond memories of dark characters told through a lens of sharp humor. All of this is put against a soundtrack of the music of its day. You can’t help love that backdrop. The book has a beat.
And even more simply put, Egan can write. It seems she could wrap up a story by crossing ten, twenty, or thirty years effortlessly. It’s like a rock that’s been skipped across the water and touching down briefly. One. Two. Three.
This is a novel which is entertaining without being frivolous, serious without being heavy, surprisingly good without any hype.
Trust me: this could be one of the best paperbacks you read in 2011. (Check out the NYT review)
Or I could send you my copy with some fresh fruit.