Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

If it were not for the sickly green cover, this book would be near perfect.  Why do big New York publishers dress brilliance like this in such mediocrity?  I remember expressing something similar about an inferior cover while reviewing Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel “The Lowland.” Egan’s book’s cover should have color and complexity, like the stories inside.

The book itself is one of those rare literary discoveries that catch me completely unprepared.

I thought it would be an okay read.  After all, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well as the National Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and other literary honors. Those awards, however, have little relevance to the true greatness of a book. Plenty of books that have won such accolades have left little impression on me.

I don’t know whether to call it a novel or a collection of interrelated stories with common characters.  Who cares?  It is what it is.  The styles mix from first person to third person to second person, present and past tense – there is even one story told entirely in PowerPoint slides. It slips and slides back and forth in time like a drug-crazed time traveler, but at no point is there a diminution of the quality of the prose or of the subject matter.  Every word is relevant.  Every story, at the end, grips the heart with its inevitability and insight into character.

The photo of the author on the inside cover flap is a giveaway.  She has a wry smile, as if she is privy to some secret of which the rest of us are ignorant.  And she is, in a sense.  She knows how to put words together better than most writers on the planet.  And it appears to be effortless, something she tossed off as if a musician at a jam session, though there is not a melody, not a single note out of place.

I could get into the various plotlines, I suppose, but it would be very convoluted and spoil the fun when you read it for yourself.  And you should, you know.  If you enjoy hip, relevant, intelligent, character-rich, dynamic, utterly absorbing fiction, you should give this book a try.

 *     *     *

When I wrote the above section I had one more chapter or story in the book left to read.  Now I have completed it, and the ending is perfect, a fitting resolution.  I said “chapter or story” because some reviewers refer to the book as a novel, and some as a collection of short stories.  I guess you could say it is both.  Each story hold up well on its own; in fact, a number were published in prestigious magazines before they appeared in the book.  It doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as you call it a singular work of art, but I would probably call it a novel.  The various interconnected stories all hold together beautifully as one entity.  Since, as I said, I don’t want to give away anything by synopsizing the plot, I will just reiterate what I said earlier.  Read the book, and you are in for a profound, uplifting literary experience.

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