A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

First Sentence: It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.

This book has received a lot of coverage lately, annoyingly mostly due to the fact that a certain other novel did not win The 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, as opposed to celebrating the fact that this one actually did. It is one of those novels which has many, many different stories and characters and layers, and it is simply not possible to do it all justice in one short review. Basically, it spans the globe and the decades from New York and San Francisco to Africa, from the ’70s to the near-future. Characters come and go, but it centres on Bennie Salazar, a music mogul, and his PA Sasha. It centres on them and their journeys and the lives they touch. It has the feel of a book that can be enjoyed in bite size pieces or as a full on feast, depending on your mood. Mostly though it is a book about time, and the unavoidable and unpredictable effects of time on every single person in the world. This is summed up nicely by Bosco, an old musician who plans on releasing his final album A to B, and then embarking on a farewell tour until he literally dies on stage. “And that’s the question I want to hit straight on: how did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about?”. This question is central to the novel and all of the characters ask themselves similar questions at some stage in the book. If you like books with endless characters and narratives that interlace in exciting ways this is worth getting sucked into. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad it won that award instead of that other book.

* * * *

Last Sentence: But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys.

Last Sentence explained: The book ends after a massive outdoor concert is held and Bennie and Alex (another of the endless stream of characters who has a one night stand with Sasha in the opening scene) go to Sasha’s old apartment to see if they can find her. They then hear keys in the door and this brings us to the final sentence…This person is clearly yet another character who is about to have their lives altered by coming into contact with the life of somebody else. This effect, and time, and the digitization of time are ongoing concerns for Bennie who says: “The problem was digitization, which sucked the life out of everything that got smeared through its microscopic mesh. Film, photography, music: dead. An aesthetic holocaust!”. Technology is to be both embraced and feared as the members of a Safari who all have a near death experience will realise in their own futures, “[…] it will prompt some of them, years from now, to search for each other on Google and Facebook.” Technology is even embraced by the author who manages to tell an entire story through charts and graphs and spreadsheets near the end of the book. The main point to be taken away from this novel is that we are all connected and all our fates are the same. It is also hugely enjoyable and entertaining.

Random quotes from the book:

“A sob cracks open in me. Tears leak out from my eyes, but only the two in my face. The other thousand eyes are closed.”

“[…] there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in the park. In fact there may have been no difference at all.”

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