Book Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad

Paige Welch, Staff Writer

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a contemporary novel written by Jennifer Egan. Though it was published almost seven years ago, it still has little attention in the literary world. There is not a lot of scholarly material published about it, but it is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that is a favorite for many young fiction buffs.

The focal point of the novel is music. It is an element that pulses through the background for the entirety of the plot. Every character connects to music in some emotional way. Benny is an aging record company CEO holding onto his days in a high school punk band and refusing to grow old. He stirs pure gold flakes into his coffee everyday, hoping that it will give him youth. There is a young boy that gets lost in the gaps of rock greats because it is in those where he finds the beat of time. There is also Sasha, a young punk rock girl employed by Benny, who lusts after her. These are only a few of the many characters that make this novel exciting. The fictional landscape is absolutely stunning and never dull. Each chapter is from a different point of view and tells another story. As the novel goes on, all of the pieces begin to connect as time is constantly looking over them.

Beyond the unique and refreshing plot elements, Egan’s prose and adoptive structure is gorgeous, but not in an overly pretentious, hard to swallow way. Many of the chapters long to accomplish something innovative. There is one section that is entirely made up of powerpoint slides. Through the experimental makeup, humanity and its relationship with time is conveyed as chaotic, and somehow both sad and triumphant. Amongst all of the heartbreaking honesty is a message that life is beautiful when the small, happy things are looked at. But a lot of battles have to be fought in order to get to that point and time will not do anything but keep on. Since the cast of characters are so diverse when it comes to ages, backgrounds, memories and experiences, the scope of emotions and relatable content is broadened. A Visit From the Goon Squad is not the kind of novel that can only be read and related to by young adults; the themes of holding onto youth, family, parenting, and the complexities of adulthood in general give this story a potential of relating to a much wider audience.

But since Egan is very experimental with her style, I can imagine it being a hard change to grasp for those accustomed to a traditional narrative technique. Here is a quote from the novel to give readers an idea of Egan’s literary voice, as well as provide some insight on some extended themes:
“Structural dissatisfaction: Returning to circumstances that once pleased you, after having experienced a more thrilling or opulent way of life, and finding that you can no longer tolerate them.”

This sentence relates to the idea that aging is painful, and it is so because everything becomes harder to enjoy once we start to experience so much. Overall, this is a novel I recommend to anyone looking for an interesting read to entertain them over spring break. I guarantee that it will make you think and will be completely unforgettable.

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