{time’s a goon}

I MOVED. Moving is exhausting and leaves no time for anything else and I’m never allowed to do it again. Short-term, the best thing that has come of moving so far is that it left me too exhausted to do anything after work today but take a four-hour nap and finally finish Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Now I’m not-at-all-sarcastically thrilled to spend my Friday night updating my blog and pondering the hell didn’t I read this earlier?

Besides being able to check it off my bookmark list of Pulitzer fiction winners, I’m super happy I finally read AVftGS because it was just really, really good. Contradictingly to what I’d originally thought, it’s not really a novel, but a collection of short stories that center around (a LOT) of shared characters. Seriously—there are a lot of them. I didn’t, but I really wanted to make some kind of flowchart to keep track of them. Instead, I’ll probably just read the book over and over again, because it was that good.

I think the main reason I found this collection of stories so good was that they constantly surprised me and somehow simultaneously really made sense. Each chapter is a snippet, a vignette, a moment out of someone’s life that might qualify as a “main character,” or might just be married to a “main character,” or might just have been casually referenced in passing in an earlier chapter and oh look! now they have their own chapter. There’s no immediately discernable rhyme or reason to the order of chapters: they span countries, decades, some even moving into the future. The only thing that seems to concretely unite them is a shared appreciation for music, identity, and time itself, which if that isn’t one of the vaguest things I’ve ever written here, I’m not really sure what is.

In an attempt to collect my thoughts, I’m going to result to one of my weakest (and yet most frequented) blog ploys: the bulleted list.

  • If I wasn’t completely emotionless/my tear ducts worked, I would’ve cried reading “Out of Body.” Love love love.
  • Any author who can tell a thoughtful, emotional, powerful story using PowerPoint slides (“Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Alison Blake”) is worthy of admiration, I think.
  • If I had to decide, I suppose that Sasha—the focus of the opening chapter, “Found Objects”—would be the best candidate for “main character,” by virtue of the fact that she had the most major appearances in other stories and seemed to be the lynchpin of many relationships. I did not find Sasha to be the most interesting character or the one I liked the best, but she was both interesting and favorable. That factor, I think, accounted most for the surprise I mentioned earlier: Each character is mentioned in passing or not even at all, and then all of a sudden they have their own chapter and (after you’ve perplexedly paged back through earlier chapters to try to remember why that name sounds so familiar and where you heard it before) they suddenly have the most interesting story in the world and you can’t quite remember if the whole book isn’t actually about only them.

All bulleted-listing/sleep-deprived ranting aside, I really really do recommend this one. It left me fulfilled, sad, wondering, and anxious—all in the best possible way.

Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?


2 responses

  1. Just finished this book (I added it to my Amazon Wishlist after reading this very favorable review long ago) and I agree with you on the excellent use of PowerPoint slides.

    Also – I was really frustrated by the fact that all the characters were linked. I felt like I was failing at keeping the relationships straight in my mind. I kept thinking, am I supposed to remember who this is? I also was frustrated because I kept developing attachments to certain characters, and wanted to see where their stories would go, but then they abruptly disappeared.

    I did like the author’s ability to capture moments in time and develop interesting characters. I think my favorite part was about the washed-out PR exec who works for a dictator responsible for mass genocide.

    • I remember that! The one that spilled oil all over the celebrities at the party, and then people who weren’t there scarred themselves so it looked like they had… Chilling.

      Yes, I will definitely have to reread this one at some point to keep all the characters straight. Building Stories (which I just blogged about) had a similar disjointed storyline, where I kept waiting for things to pop up again/get resolved that never did.

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