Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #48 for 2016

It took me a while to warm to this book. For the first CD or so, it seemed like I was in for another The Invisible Circus disappointment. There were all these characters I could not force myself to care about yammering on about the punk rock world of the ’70s and ’80s. I was a kid in those days, and I find that books that depict what was going on in the adult world while I was busy playing Charlie’s Angels or shopping for Jordache jeans just depress the hell out of me.

But then I started catching on to the structure Egan was using, and my interest was well and truly piqued. It would be a stretch to say I found any of the characters likeable, but looking for the patterns in their interconnectedness was engaging, and I found I appreciated the roles they had to play. The titular goon is Time, and the overarching theme of the novel is that Time has one job to do for Big Boss Entropy, and it doesn’t much care what happens as a consequence of battering its targets and leaving so much wreckage in its wake. So the characters became a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of interaction and reaction whenever Time smacked them upside the head.

I also think Egan was demonstrating the folly of thinking of time in linear terms. It’s more of an intricately woven jacquard. And the swirl of relationships implies that time is cyclical and renewable, at once finite and infinite.

I listened to this on audiobook, but then a lady at book club was kind enough to give me her paperback copy so I could re-read the notorious PowerPoint chapter. The audiobook reader did a fine job, but I’d say it’s worth hunting down a hard copy, if only for that section. It really helps to be able to see how the slides are arranged. I mean, that’s their whole point, so it makes a difference.

This book is definitely not for everybody, but if you like to think about time and causality and interpersonal connections, or if you are one of those people who think the “Are you a big picture person or a detail person” interview question sets up a false dichotomy, this book may be for you. This is one of those rare books that I plan to re-read someday. I think it would be fun to piece together a master timeline…er, time-swirl…yeah….

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