Review of the Books: A Visit From The Goon Squad
A Visit From The Goon Squad
A Visit From The Goon Squad is a novel by Jennifer Egan that is broken into thirteen parts with each part being narrated by a different character. All thirteen narrators and other major characters that are introduced to readers throughout the novel are all interconnected with one another. The title refers to goon squads which used to attack and bully people into voting for certain people during election time. Egan uses the title as a metaphor for time, which according to her, is as unmerciful as a goon squad.
The interconnectedness of the relationships between Egan's characters varies from significant relationship such as family, friend, or lover, to less significant relationship such as employer, one night stand, or casual acquaintance. This interconnectedness serves to help structure the book and keep everything related, even though its being done loosely.
You can also argue that no one character is more important than the other throughout the book, while others might argue that Bennie the record producer and Sasha his assistant could be seen as the central two characters of the book. Both of these characters find their way into almost every chapter in the novel.
Nevertheless with all of these loose narratives it is difficult to explain the whole book, so in the capsule below entitled Plot Summaries - A Visit From The Goon Squad, there is a little synopsis of each chapter written below which contain minor spoilers. This book is based on the concept of time and aging and how it effects people's lives unpredictably, and often times cruelly. The characters and narrative are important, but not as important as the theme of aging, which is why these short summaries are included.
Major Characters in A Visit From The Goon Squad
Record Executive, married then divorced to Stephanie, former member of the Flaming Dildos, and works with Sasha for twelve years.
Bennie's assistant for twelve years, kleptomaniac, has a one night stand with Alex, has a troubled past, and is looking to find her way in life
Another record executive who mentors Bennie early in his life. He has two children Rolph and Charlene and a number of ex-wives. He enjoys the company of younger women.
A childhood friend of Bennie, Scotty, Rachel, and Jocelyn. She supports Bennie's band and has a crush on him that is never realized.
A childhood friend of Bennie, Scotty, Rachel, and Rhea. She gives into Lou's advances and also had a close relationship with Rolph.
A member of the Flaming Dildos with Bennie. He is trying to get his life back on track.
A formerly successful PR person, now trying to succeed as a publicist.
Lou's son who develops crushes on his younger girlfriends.
Lou's daughter who gets jealous of Lou's younger girlfriends.
Bennie's wife and an employee of La Doll's PR firm, her brother is Jules.
Stephanie's brother who recently got out of jail for a highly publicized incident.
A closeted gay man who is Sasha's best friend.
A friend of Rob and Sasha.
The daughter of Sasha and Drew.
Has a one night stand with Sasha, later he works with Bennie.
Sasha's uncle who tries to help her after she runs away.
An actress who is trying to turn her career around.
Former member of The Conduits.
Plot Summaries in A Visit From The Goon Squad
Sasha - Present Time, Third Person
Sasha is on a date with Alex, during the date she heads to the women's bathroom and steals a ladies purse in the stall next to hers, revealing she has a compulsive stealing problem. We also learn that she used to work as an assistant to Bennie Salazar, a record producer, for twelve years.
Bennie - The Not Too Distant Past, Third Person
Bennie is a record executive, his company is doing well, but he has just been divorced by his wife Stephanie, and he only gets a limited amount of time to spend with his son Christopher. He is looking to sign a new band that will help propel his company forward, but he also brings his young son with on the trip since he had promised to spend time with him.
Rhea - Early 1980s, First Person
Rhea and her friends Alice and Jocelyn are fan girls to a local band called the Flaming Dildos, which include their close friends Scotty, Marty, and Bennie. The Flaming Dildo's get into a big venue and get a record producer, Lou, to come see them.
Multiple Narrators in this Chapter Part 1 Charlene (Charlie), 3rd Person
Charlie is on a Safari with her brother Rolph, her father Lou (the record producer), Lou's new girlfriend Mindy, and some other musicians and people that Lou knows. Lou tries to open his kids up to Mindy who is not much older than his two kids.
Multiple Narrators in this Chapter Part 2 Mindy, 3rd Person
Mindy is much more intelligent than what is originally led on. She witnesses the dog Chronos get eaten by lions with Lou's two children, and Rolph begins to develop a childhood crush on her. Albert who is also on the Safari proposes that Mindy runaway with him to a different life, away from Lou.
Multiple Narrators in this Chapter Part 3 Charlene (Charlie), 3rd Person
Charlie and Rolph witness there father starting to get competitive over Mindy with a younger guy named Albert. At the end of the Safari all of the characters attend a dance, and Charlene gives readers a glimpse into the future that awaits all of the characters in this chapter.
Jocelyn - The Not Too Distant Past, First Person
Jocelyn is in her forties and she has reunited with Rhea to see Lou on his deathbed at the hospital. Through flashbacks we see Jocelyn not only had a relationship with Lou, but also with his son Rolph before he broke it off. They catch up and help Lou relive his past.
Scotty - The Not Too Distant Past, First Person
Scotty from the Flaming Dildos discovers Benny is a successful record producer and decides to go and visit him him in his current drugged up state. They are able to talk, but their relationship has completely changed.
Stephanie - The Past, 3rd Person
Stephanie is married to Bennie, and they are living an upper class life with Bennie's successes as a record producer helping them make a lot of money. Stephanie works for a high powered PR firm run by La Doll, and is also helping her troubled brother Jules. Their busy lives have a negative effect on their marriage, and their relationship suffers for it.
Dolly/La Doll - The Past, 3rd Person
Dolly is a publicist who is working on improving the image of a 3rd world tyrant, General B, with actress Kitty Jackson. She reminisces about her past as La Doll, a ruined PR maven, and how she ended up doing this job. She is also raising her daughter Lulu in the U.S.
Jules Jones - The Past, 3rd Person Newspaper Article
Jules Jones, Stephanie's brother, tells part of his life story while he interviews Kitty Jackson.
Rob - The Past, 3rd Person
Rob is a closeted gay man who is best friends with Sasha. Rob pretends to be Sasha's boyfriend in college, at her request. Later he develops feelings for Drew, a new romantic interest for Sasha, and is jealous of his developing relationship with her.
Ted - The Past, 3rd Person
Ted is Sasha's uncle and he tries to bring her back home when she runs away to Naples. While there, he keeps thinking about Susan, his ex-wife.
Alison - The Future, 3rd Person PowerPoint Slides
Alison is the daughter of Drew and Sasha, and she compiles a list of pauses in rock songs while simultaneously giving more information about Sasha, Drew, and other characters as time has passed.
Alex - The Future, 3rd Person
Alex is a sound mixer seeking Bennie Salazar to do PR for a concert being put on by one of Bennie's musicians, Scotty. He remembers hearing about Bennie from a girl (Sasha) he had a one night stand with years ago.
Anchor Books 2010
Country of Origin
Global/Many Different Places, Mostly In The U.S.
Thirteen sections with thirteen different narrators, usually alternating between 1st or 3rd person
2010 National Book Critics Circle Award For Fiction, 2011 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction
Positive and Negative Qualities in A Visit From the Goon Squad
A Visit From The Goon Squad is a fascinating book. The changing narratives, the wide variety of characters, the pacing of each of the narratives, the innovative forms used, the emotional tenderness and intensity that varies throughout the book, and the way time treats each of these characters in this book makes for an overwhelmingly powerful story.
This book takes readers from hating one character in one chapter to feeling some sort of redemption has been achieved for that character in the next. Other characters likeability and relate-ability swing back and forth throughout the book, but ultimately most of the time you find yourself rooting for the characters lives to end with positive outcomes.
Goon Squad is also unpredictable, from start to finish the plot keeps readers guessing as to what's going to happen next, and it keeps readers hoping life works out for the best for most of these characters. This book is an intelligent book, requiring focus to keep all of the names together and their relationships with one another organized, but at the same time this book is by no means as difficult to read as say, Ulysses.
On the negative side, there is really nothing too bad that you can say about this book. Some have argued that the more surreal aspects of the novel effect the story negatively, but those surreal aspects, in my personal opinion, never seem to take away from the themes, characters, or the story in general.
A Visit From The Goon Squad is Recommended for...
A Visit From The Goon Squad is recommended for people looking for a novel that is still accessible, but not obvious... or challenging, but not impossible. An open minded reader will enjoy the looser story structure, a close minded reader might have to try a little harder to enjoy it. Nevertheless this book tackles the issue of aging and time with all of the emotional weight that is needed and then some.
On a side note, to the musicians and music lovers out there, this book has a lot of music references to the record industry, punk rock, rock music in general, and pauses in music.... pauses in music refers to the chapter written in PowerPoint slides that largely focuses on pauses in rock songs.
A Visit From The Goon Squad leaves you with many memorable narratives, powerful emotional encounters, and a wide range of characters that deal with complex issues. The way each character handles these issues can be seen as positive or negative depending on your perspective. This book isn't as simple as labeling something black or white. Depending on the readers perspective this book can offer a lot of different meanings and interpretations.
An Excerpt From A Visit From The Goon Squad
This excerpt is from the Stephanie narrated chapter where she and her brother Jules go to interview Bosco, a former member of the successful band The Conduits. Bosco is not what he used to be and Stephanie is getting involved in helping him plan a tour as a solo artist. Boscoe's comeback idea is this:
"I'm done he," he said. "I'm old, I'm sad - that's on a good day. I want out of this mess. But I don't want to fade away., I want to flame away - I want my death to be an attraction, a spectacle, a mystery. A work of art. Now, Lady PR," he said gathering up his drooping flesh and leaning toward her, eyes glittering in his overblown head, "you try to tell me no one's going to be interested in that. Realty TV, hell - it doesn't get any realer than this. Suicide is a weapon; that we all know. But what about an art?" - Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad