A Visit from the Goon Squad
By Jennifer Egan
ISBN: 97803074 77477
There are books you buy because you read so many fabulous reviews that you must, absolutely must, have it as part of your personal library. Sometimes you go to a book festival and hear an author speak and you’re convinced that you must, absolutely must, own the book. You’ve been sold. You buy the book. And then you start to wonder if it will live up to the expectations, which are now so high that you consider taking the book back to the store and finding out if it would be possible to exchange it for something else. You don’t want to be disappointed. You decide to read it anyway and you’re surprised. Surprised that you love it; surprised that it lived up to your mighty expectations.
In the bathroom of a hotel in New York City, Sasha is doing her best to not steal a wallet peeking slightly out of a woman’s purse. She doesn’t want to steal it, but she has to. She can’t explain it, not even to her therapist, stealing is something she must do. And it has to be personal, new things don’t have the same effect on her. She takes it and then just as the wallet peeking out of the purse, we peek into her life. We do this by way of disjointed introductions to all the people and places that have passed through her life. Her therapist, her boss — Bennie Salazar, a music industry executive with too many problems of his own — ex-boyfriends, college friends, and family members.
This is one of those books that I will admit upfront that I will not be able to describe adequately so I won’t even try. It’s a meandering book. You’re drawn in and out of people’s lives and in some cases you’re not even sure until several paragraphs into the chapter why exactly this person has appeared. What’s amazing about it is that even in those moments when you’re wondering who this person is and why you should care about them, you begin to see the invisible strings that tie everyone together. They appear out of nowhere and this author’s ability to show, in raw details, the characters’ problems is amazing. And the writing; the writing is startling. Yes, there is a reason Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer Prize. Yes, she deserves it.
A Visit from the Goon Squad took me several days to read and it’s not a long book; 340 pages total. I took my time wanting to savor each and every word. I went back a few times to re-read passages. I wanted to see how she said so much with so few words. The writing felt sparse to me at first and then I began to realize that even though she didn’t describe things in a widely epic fashion, I saw every single detail. I saw Sasha lift that wallet so delicately out of the purse and slip it into hers. I saw the expression on Bennie Salazar’s face when his son puts the gold flakes on his tongue and the felt the exhilaration his son felt. There’s something about her writing that is so extraordinary that I found myself reading slower and slower as I got to the end.
I’ve never read a book before that included one chapter that was an entire PowerPoint presentation. A Visit from the Goon Squad is officially that book and may retain that title for many years to come. What I thought most interesting about this chapter was that in some ways it was the most telling and sad chapter of the entire book. So poignant and strange at the same time I forgot I was reading slides and it read as a young girl’s journal, as it was intended.
I’m sure this one will make it on my best of 2011 list (it did). It was just that good. Sad, funny, confusing, and beautiful; much like life.