four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
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0

A-A Visit from the Goon Squad-LitJennifer Egan is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and short story writer. Her work includes three previous novels: The Invisible Circus (1994), Look at Me (2001), and a work of neogothic metafiction, The Keep (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006).

The Story: Music serves as the unifying theme in this uniquely formatted novel, which, structured like an album, has two parts, A and B, and many different narrators. Music executive Bennie Salazar, a former punk rocker, can’t understand the appeal of today’s digitized music, believing it too precise and soulless. His assistant, 35-year-old Sasha, has her own problems trying to understand the root of her kleptomania. A Visit from the Goon Squad also offers snapshots into the lives of a celebrity tabloid reporter, a disgraced publicist, a music executive on safari with his family in Africa, and an autistic boy fascinated by musical rhythms. Marriages, suicides, drugs, music, and scandals--they’re all here, taking place over four decades and various geographies.
Knopf. 288 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307592835

Cleveland Plain Dealer 5 of 5 Stars
"I expect this brilliant, inventive novel to become enshrined. ... Would that Marcel Proust could receive A Visit From the Goon Squad. It would blow his considerable mind." Karen R. Long

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] frequently dazzling piece of layer-cake meta-fiction, told via a sprawling constellation of characters and linked vignettes that spill from the late-’70s Bay Area punk scene to the African plains, the dissolute slums of Naples, and the flush New York suburbs of the ‘90s boom. Egan’s expert flaying of human foibles has the compulsive allure of poking at a sore tooth: excruciating but exhilarating, too." Leah Greenblatt

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It may be the smartest book you can get your hands on this summer. ... Scattered across time, free of chronology, the stories in the book nevertheless have a careful and deliberate structure." Carolyn Kellogg

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"A Visit from the Goon Squad is fascinating for its daring scope and fractured narrative, but along the way, Egan crafts some brilliant scenes, including a staged PR photo op for a genocidal dictator, a rock star on safari in Africa, and the most disturbing magazine profile of an emerging starlet you will ever read. ...[A] rich and rewarding novel." David Hiltbrand

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Any of these stories could stand alone, and the reader wouldn’t feel confused or deprived, thanks to her ability to bring her characters to life with just a few deft strokes, dropping them into harrowing circumstances that are clear turning points. Yet the chapters contain common themes that work like musical bridges, and the whole is greater than its parts." Malena Watrous

Critical Summary

Critics loved Egan’s newest novel, describing it as "audacious" and "extraordinary" (Philadelphia Inquirer). In the hands of a less-gifted writer, Egans’s time-hopping narrative, unorthodox format, and motley cast of characters might have failed spectacularly. But it works here, primarily because each person shines within his or her individual chapter that offers a distinct voice and a fascinating backstory. A few reviewers mentioned the uneven nature of the chapters and the different stylistic experiments within them. Yet, hailed as "a frequently dazzling piece of layer-cake metafiction" (Entertainment Weekly), A Visit from the Goon Squad is a gutsy novel that succeeds on all levels.