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Book Review: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad is certainly not the average book. With so many interesting and humorous characters and stories woven together, this novel creates a compelling narrative deserving of attention.

TEACHER REVIEW | by Cindy Sabik

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a dense, courageous novel about the music industry in the 1970s. I was taken with its experimental writing style, the humor and the compelling characters. Among my friends and colleagues, opinion was divided. Some wanted more consistency and character development, while others found it a compelling and significant book (a rare declaration). I believe that the reader will find it energetic and inventive, as it is most definitely not a traditional narrative.

That said, I was not immediately smitten. In the opening chapter, I was afraid I would be stuck with Sasha, the assistant to a record producer, who seemed to be emerging as the protagonist, for the entire book. I did not find her particularly likeable or compelling. As I reached the end of that first chapter, advice from another reader to keep track of each of the characters put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of this innovative book.

I was smitten by record producer Lou’s kids in the chapter where he takes them on an African safari. I loved those kids, and I loved the “montage” method Egan uses in that chapter. It reminded me of the film Run Lola Run, with the photomontages that flash forward to tell a life story in a few seconds. Egan, astonishingly and cleverly, manages to do that with text.

I loved the biting humor. A ruined publicist tries to save her career by attempting to change the global image of a third-world genocidal dictator-worrying about his cute hats and bringing in an aging starlet to soften his image. Too, too funny.

The final chapter was futuristic and dystopian, in the tradition of Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. While Huxley and Bradbury were critiquing culture and society, Egan targets our use of social media. Instead of painting an entire futuristic world, she focuses on technology and social media, showing us a glimpse of the future in one moment, 20 years later. You don’t often see contemporary authors predicting the future (although I’m anticipating some from Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart-next on my reading list). And who says your prediction has to be a whole worldview? Didn’t we learn from Virginia Woolf and James Joyce that looking closely at one day or one hour in a character’s life can reveal as much as an epic tale?

This is, I believe, a significant work of literature, deserving of the 2011 Pulitzer that it won. The Pulitzer, as often awarded for cleverness as it is for literary merit, found here a book worthy on both counts.

Cindy Sabik, English Department Chair, Gilmour Academy, Gates Mills, Ohio.

TEEN REVIEW | by Sarah Spech

A Visit from the Goon Squadby Jennifer Egan, is easily one of the top three novels that I have read in the past year. In the last month of my AP Literature course, we decided to read and discuss a novel that was recommended to us by our teacher. As you may have guessed, it was Goon Squad. From reading reviews, we understood that this was not a typical narrative. Because it was clearly different from anything we’d ever read before, we were that much more excited to crack open our brand new books.

From the get-go, it didn’t disappoint. Far from it. I was completely drawn in. The voices of the characters and the story line in the very first chapter had me hooked.

As each chapter jumped to a new character and a new point in time – sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards, and without any explicit way of knowing-I grew more engrossed, searching for clues (that were easily found) and trying to connect the complicated lives and relationships of all the characters.

With a cast of 13 main characters, Egan never gives the reader a moment of rest. Each chapter is a snippet of a life that you must piece together to gather the whole story. I was taken with how remarkable this book was in showing the complexities of human relationships and how much of an effect one being can have on another. Right now, the Goon Squad is on the top of my “read again” list that, should the senior year workload ever give me a chance, I will happily pick up again in order to peruse the intricacies of both the specific and grander stories that Egan masterfully wove into one.

By Sarah Spech, senior at Gilmour Academy.

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