I thought it was about time that I a) read this book that people have been raving about for ages, and b) read another book for the Back to the Classics Challenge. As this won the Pullitzer Prize, it fulfills that criteria, and I got all excited when the local library got it in for me. It's taken me a while to review it, as it took me a while to work out what I actually thought about it. That, and I'm just lazy...
It's a very odd book, and I've been having trouble writing a summary for it. Ostensibly, it reads like a series of short stories, in which each chapter is about a character from the previous chapter, but not necessarily the character who appears to be the 'main' or 'focal' character from that chapter. Starting out, this made it very odd reading for me, as it really throws you into the mix, and doesn't allow you to focus. This meant that I didn't really realise that the story was still developing in the way that stories always do, until about halfway through the novel. It was great; like the sneak night attack of the storyline.
This is the synopsis, from Goodreads:
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.I've also been (vaguely) discussing this book as part of the Goodreads book club, which has been interesting. Egan's characters are very vivid, and her style is at times quite conversational. She takes strands which seem completely unrelated, and weaves them together, creating many somewhat explosive moments, where I'd find myself sitting back, staring at the page going 'hang on, what just happened?'. I love it when books do this to me!
Egan's characters range from the very young, to the very old; from those who are vividly alive, to those who are literally at death's door. Her settings range all over the world, and she depicts people from all kinds of lifestyles. Reading A Visit from the Goon Squad was in many ways, like getting a snapshot of the most vivid sections of society. Overall, it does really chart the lives of Bennie and Sasha, the characters it starts out with, from when they are very young, throughout their lives. It shows the rise and fall of Bennie, and the fall and rise of Sasha. The thing I enjoyed the most was that Egan gives each character a distinctive hook, from Sasha's kleptomania, and Bennie's inability to drink coffee without gold flakes in it (reflecting his obsession with his diminishing libido), to the voice she gives to younger characters, such as Rhea - currently there's an ongoing debate on Goodreads about whether using 'he goes/she goes' instead of 'he/she said' is annoying or authentic. Personally I'm in the authentic camp - I know I never used 'said' until very very recently, and in fact from time to time, I still slip back to 'goes' when telling stories. I also use 'like' far too much in sentences, but that's really a story for another day.
So, summary. I loved this book. It was so unique and well drawn, and stylistically different from pretty much everything I've ever read before. I would recommend that everybody give it a go, and stick with it when you think you'll hate it - especially the weird bit at the end when the entire book flips the other way around... it's worth it!