Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: "A Visit from the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan

Sometimes books are difficult to describe, whether because of their structure, content or narrative style. As I read Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, I realized more and more that it was a difficult book to really pin down, as it kept defying my expectations. More a collection of linked stories than a novel and less about the music business than other reviews led me to believe, this book had tremendous heart and soul, and a number of the characters have kept me thinking about them even after finishing the book.

The two anchors of the book are music executive Bennie Salazar and his troubled assistant, Sasha, although many of the stories focus on different people with significant or tangential connections to one or both of them. The stories take place at different times and in different locations around the world, so at times you are able to see what happened to a particular character or how they got to where they were in an earlier story. While the jumbled sense of time and characters can be a bit confusing at first, the stories draw you in fairly quickly and I found it easy to get oriented to when and where each was taking place. Oh, and did I mention that one chapter—one of my favorites—is actually a PowerPoint presentation? (It's not as weird as it sounds.)

I really enjoyed all but the last chapter in this book. It took place in the future (although you're not certain how far into the future) and Egan uses strange lingo and creates a setting that is hard to get your head around. But other than that, I thought this book was really well-written and some of the stories packed quite a wallop. It may be a little work to remember each character and determine where and when the chapters take place, but it's well worth the effort.

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