A few weeks ago author Jennifer Egan won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I was just finishing up a book, so I downloaded it to my nook and moved it to the top of my rotation. Yesterday I finished it and I’m going back and forth on it frankly. It doesn’t measure up to some recent Pulitzer winners like “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz or “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, two of my all-time favorites. But I liked it.
I hadn’t read any of Egan’s previous work, and truth be told I thought she was a chick lit author so I never even skimmed a jacket. I shall offer a mea culpa for that bit of chauvinism and admit right now that she is definitely a literary author. Goon Squad is a very modern tale written in a progressive style with interesting characters and told using a very unique literary device. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, a character that you only learn about from the previous chapter. On top of that, the chapters jump back and forth across time so that there is no easy literary flow. I was intrigued by the device and at the same time confused. I thought the concept was great, but as a result it was very hard to follow. I sort of want to go back and read it again, this time keeping a flow chart of the relationships between all the characters!
With or without the literary chicanery, the characters are all very interesting and the individual stories are fun. It was fun to read. But at the same time, I feel like I didn’t really follow the lives of the two main characters that well. The novel begins with Sasha, a young woman who we learn has a little issue with stealing things. She works for a record producer, Bennie, who was famous for discovering a popular punk rock band. Each chapter can be related back to Bennie and/or Sasha, even as they are told through the eyes of secondary and tertiary characters. For example, in one chapter Sasha’s uncle is wandering the streets of Italy looking for Sasha, who has run away from home. He interacts with her while there, so we learn a little bit about her motivation. That’s sort of how the novel goes.
I won’t say anything else in case you want to read the novel, which I do recommend. Along with the Pulitzer it has won numerous accolades including the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist and a New York Times Book Review Best Book. I think it has won so many fans because of both the unique way Egan tells the story and because it’s a modern tale that is very well written. I am definitely going to go back and look at Egan’s other books now and will consider adding them to my reading list.