A Visit From the Goon Squad is as quirky as its title. Jennifer Egan’s whimsical journey through decades of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll is alternately funny, confusing, touching, insightful. She introduces us to interesting characters and situations, then after a chapter or two, abandons them for other characters and situations which may be in the future or the past relative to the first. They may refer to plot lines or characters
from the first chapters, or they may not. Some chapters are in the first person, some in the third, some in the second. There are a couple of chapters that are done entirely in graphs and other visual designs, I skipped them because the print it was too small. It even takes a short trip into the near future where everyone has hand-helds that can not only broadcast images and words, but locate and zoom in on desired faces. Egan carries the IM shorthand to the ultimate, a language that everyone uses. So, in addition to everything else, she gives us some semi-science fiction.
I’m sure I would have gotten a lot more out of this if I knew more about the era’s music and show biz personalities. The writing has all the earmarks of caricature and satire–lots of exaggerated speech, body images, etc–and undoubtedly refers to people and incidents that those more knowledgeable will appreciate.
Despite its bewildering complexity and a lot of what I see as experimentation for its own sake and plenty of unnecessary razzle-dazzle, I found Goon Squad amusing, admirable and satisfying. In essence, it’s a kind of death-and-resurrection, or at least a redemption-from-the-bottom-of-the-barrel story. But it’s neither sentimental nor evangelistic about the whole process. Positive, not saccharine. I like that.