Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Good Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Publisher: Anchor
Published: 2010
Paperback: 340 pages
Source: purchased from

My Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (from Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

My Thoughts: For months, I had debated whether or not to buy this book. I saw it when it first came out, then a few weeks later, then months later. For some reason, it just never made the leap into my basket. After it had won the Pulitzer, I figured that maybe I was missing something. That there had to be something worth checking out. While I do not think that this book is on the level of many other classics, it is a good story (for most of the book). Each chapter is told from a different person's point of view. Sometime it's first person, sometimes it's third. Sometimes you instantly know who is talking, and other times, it takes awhile to figure out (for me, I sometimes had no idea who it was!) It jumps around from the 1970s to the future, with no real plot. Each chapter teaches you something about the people who are involved in Bennie and Sasha's lives. The variety of characters was interesting for me, but made it difficult to follow at times. You don't actually have that many chapters from Bennie or Sasha, so it really is up to you to keep track of the characters, what year you are in, and how they relate to one of the two main characters.

My favorite part of the whole book was the second to last chapter; it was a PowerPoint presentation. It is a slide journal done by Sasha's daughter. She chronicles the lives of her mother, father, and brother with the various techniques that you can add to a PowerPoint slide. It was so interesting to see how technology affects kids. Instead of a normal journal, she keeps all of her thoughts in slides. That's how her brain thinks. It's scary to sit back and think about what all of this technology will do to us and our children in the future.

My least favorite part of the book? That last chapter. It goes on for well over 20 pages and is told from the future, where babies somehow choose what music will be popular and everyone has headsets (I think they are like full blown computers that are the size of a tiny flip phone ... not really sure though). While the rest of the book was good and I could follow, this chapter really threw me. I couldn't process it all ... I don't know if it was because it was set in the future or they were speaking in a weird text language. It really turned me off to the rest of the book.

This might be the hardest book that I have ever had to write a review for. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. There were so many characters, but not too many that I couldn't keep track of everyone. It was interesting, and at times boring. Once again, I don't know if it is one of the greatest books ever written, but it's something that everyone should check out.


  1. I've seen a lot about this book but it doesn't really appeal. I too look at it when it first came out but wasn't that interested in buying it, it's only recently I've begun to doubt myself, thanks for reassuring me :)

  2. Your review is the first that I've read that really gave me a good feel for the book; that said, I don't think it's for me. I get frustrated when the narrative is very disjointed, which it sounds like it is here. I've had very mixed experiences with Pulitzer winners; this is one I think I will skip.
    Thanks so much for your helpful review :)