A Visit to the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Location: Middle bottom, next to Patrick White’s Voss and Look at Me by Jennifer Egan.
Date acquired: 2012. I read it while looking for a job.
It’s unfortunate but I don’t read enough literary fiction – I’ve never much sought stuff under the “Literature” section in Dymocks. I think it’s because there are just too many canon classic that I haven’t gotten to yet that probably deserve my more immediate attention and because I prefer books with High Concepts or a bit more plot.
Furthermore, while It’s definitely a stereotype, I always assume that books that are considered literary are about writers with midlife crises and incipient love affairs. These subjects are not inherently interesting to me. I also don’t like how much of women’s literature- that is literature written for and by women is often marginalised from serious literature and relegated to chick lit (which is a really truly horrid term).
Now and again though I do delve into things written in this century and sometimes even stuff that people are still talking about. For some reason, I was very compelled to read Johnathan Franzen’s Freedom the moment it was published 2010, a book which I devoured and wrote extensively on here. I admire the book greatly, but three years on, I’m not sure if I truly love it and the notion of reading it again feels faintly exhausting. Nonetheless I liked it enough to be very shocked when it did not win the Putlitzer Prize of 2011 (or notably, not even shortlisted) and that a book I had never heard of: A Visit to the Goon Squad had won it instead.
Freedom is a giant behemoth of a novel that seems like it could have won any other year (Perhaps it could have won in 2012, where the Pulitzer board deemed none of the books shortlisted of the prize as worthy). But A Visit to the Goon Squad is more mercurial and yes, even more ambitious than Franzen’s attempt at Tolstoy and while I don’t really want to compare the two because both are very compelling and very different, but if pressed for an opinion I would argue that A Visit to the Goon Squad is very much the more interesting, more rewarding of the two.
A Visit to the Goon Squad is not a traditional novel and could best be described as a series of short stories with overlapping characters and narratives. It’s been awhile since I have read the book so specifics elude me but the book begins with a short interlude where a lovely kleptomaniac named Sasha steals a women’s purse and soon jumps from character to character and moves across decades and even genres. A Visit to the Goon Squad elicits a variety of narrative modes: third person, first person, second person, free indirect discourse. The most audacious chapter comes in the late middle and is essentially a powerpoint written from the perspective of Sasha’s twelve year old daughter.
It’s the type of post-modern trick that would make an Arts student roll their eyes over but in Jennifer Egan’s hands it’s one of the most emotionally engaging pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Egan shows how even the most seemingly clinical communication forms: a powerpoint still holds possibilities for narrative and character development. Once I finished this chapter, I felt as if I was witnessing something entirely new and maybe this is a bit much, but I still feel like this must of been what readers in 1925 must of felt when they first read Mrs Dalloway. I feel that despite the 90 year difference, we are all asking the same question: Who is audacious writer – and where can I find more of her?