A Visit From The Goon Squad ~ Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan places this quote from Proust’s The Guermantes Way at the beginning of her book:

Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to  live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.

So this is a novel of looking back, to who we once were, to the days of our “misspent youth”.  Of adolescent longing and the unbearable (at the time) pain that involves. But looking back from what perspective? From the present and then again from the future. These pieces woven together to make up a novel that  ranges from the heyday of punk rock (the early seventies) to the not too distant future (202?). And it tells the stories of these people in an array of voices and perspectives: first, second and third person; looking back; looking forward. Because of this, it’s dangerous to jump to conclusions about any one character. Just as you think you know them, you’re surprised by how they’ve changed over the years. The ready comparison between the then and the now deepens our understanding of the characters. Not a bad lesson to take away.

There’s even a Power Point chapter near the end. Not only does it work, but I’m not sure how that particular story could have been told any better.

The novel opens with Sasha, a woman who has a klepto problem. She works for Benny Salazar, the owner of a small indie record label. Seque back to  1979 rock band that performed under several names. Bennie Salazar is the business end of the group, although he performs as well. Scotty Hausmann is the guitar players.. The group is fleshed out with Bosco and Rolph. Rhea and Jocelyn write a lot of the music. The group dynamics are like a lot of group dynamics at the adolescent age.

Jocelyn knows I’m [Rhea] waiting for Bennie. But Bennie is waiting for Alice, who’s waiting for Scotty, who’s waiting for Jocelyn…Jocelyn is waiting for Lou…

No one is waiting for me. In this story, I’m the girl no one is waiting for.

Lou? Lou is the older guy, a record producer from LA. Reminded me of the Californication character, Ashby. Lou is not likeable, but at end the end he’s tolerable, and even somehow sympathetic.

The looks into the future are particularly evocative. Many times as we’re pulled along by the characters stories, we’re suddenly shoved out of time and ahead. It’s a great technique (my favorite in the book) and kind of exhilarating. Here, as we learn the story of Sasha’s (remember, we started with her in New York) sojourn in Europe, her Uncle Ted has found her in Naples, and gives her some advice, while urging her to come home. Then the third person narrator jumps us forward in time,

On another day more than twenty years after this one, after Sasha had gone to college and settled in New York; after she’d reconnected on Facebook with her college boyfriend and married late…and had two children, one of whom was slightly autistic; when she was like anyone, with a life that worried and electrified and overwhelmed her, Ted, long divorced – a grandfather – would visit Sasha at home in the California desert. He would step through a living room strewn with the flotsam of her young kids and watch the western sun blaze through a sliding glass door. And for an instant he would remember Naples…

That is gorgeous writing. Egan paints her canvas atop an under coating of Rock and Roll. The rock background serves to capture the place and time. And naturally, rock stories lend themselves to historical shifts. Or stories of cultural shifts have a natural affinity for using rock’s seminal events as metaphors for endings, beginnings. Like Woodstock, or Altamont, here Scotty Hausmann performs a concert after an absence of many years.

And it may be that a crowd at a particular moment of history creates the object to justify its gathering as it did at the first Human Be-In and Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Or it may be that two generations of war and surveillance had left people craving the embodiment of their own unease in the form of a lone, unsteady man on a slide guitar.

Over and over the metaphor of Time as a goon is used – a goon that beats us up and beats us down. The book sprawls yet Egan keeps it in tight reins – quite a feat.

8Tracks has compiled a “play list” that fairly captures the novel in music. A background accompaniment to the steady march of time.





Filed under Books

2 responses to “A Visit From The Goon Squad ~ Jennifer Egan

  1. Pingback: Death of a River Guide ~ Richard Flanagan | Chazz W

  2. Pingback: Goons Win! | Chazz W

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