Monday, April 16, 2012

A Visit From the Goon Squad: Believe the hype

Alright. I had my doubts, it’s true.

I had a hard time believing that I would enjoy A Visit from the Goon Squad  half as much as book bloggers, reviewers and members of the Pulitzer Prize Board seemed to think I should. In fact, I was ready to cry foul after the first couple pages, where I encountered parentheses in nearly every paragraph, suspiciously effeminate descriptors like “silvery” and “spiky-haired” and gag-inducing phrases like, “not a bangle jangled.” Blast them all, I thought to myself, I’ve been lured straight into a chick-lit booby trap.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Turns out Egan was just playing with characterization- something she does extremely well. The first chapter introduces us to a kleptomaniac record-producer’s assistant, but from there the book branches out and explores the world of her boss and his broken family, her boss’s mentor and his even brokener family, as well as the friendships and falling-outs that shaped the lives of each of the main characters from the beginning.

It’s a collection of interconnected tales that unfold in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with some Italian ghettos and African Bush thrown in for good measure. Each of the stories could easily stand on its own, but together they read like a rangy, meandering novel that explores a number of different viewpoints, characters and timeframes along the way.

Egan does an incredible job of immersing us in the lives of her characters and making their every interaction an exciting new piece of the puzzle. And even when I had my guard up for gimmicks, she seemed to pull them off effortlessly. A chapter written in second person? Recipe for disaster. Yet there we are, drowning in the East River as a doped-up, college-aged, closeted homosexual. Seventy-five straight pages of Powerpoint slides? Again, I was ready for the worst. But Egan crafts a believable narrative out of the dribs and drabs of a teenaged girl’s unorthodox diary.

The last chapter may be the most unconventional of all, but I won’t say any more, for fear of spoiling the read for others. (Still, if anyone knows where I can get a Scotty Haussman Concert T-shirt, I’d certainly like to hear from you.) But do yourself a favor and check out A Visit from the Goon Squad.

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