Title: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Genre: Literary fiction, contemporary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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 think the best way to describe this book is one of those color-by-number puzzles with math problems on each spot - you have to solve each math problem before you can color it in, and it's only after you've colored everything in that you know what the final picture is. This book takes fragments from different characters' lives at different time periods and throws them all together. You have everything from journal entries to third person narration to powerpoint slides (yes, powerpoint slides) working together to tell the stories of a few interconnected lives. You don't always see the connections at first, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to see where pieces click together, but in the end it does click.
The story opens with Sasha in her mid-thirties, a rather cynical kleptomaniac. Then you find out that she's the assistant of a music producer who happened to be rivals with this other guy back when they were teenagers and this other guy's girlfriends ends up being involved in such-and-such's life later on and the story just goes on from there. It's confusing at first, but I promise everything will start coming together. I really enjoyed the different narrative styles - they were very appropriate for whichever character the book was following at the time. I also really liked the focus on music and its power to heal and bring people together. One of my favorite parts of the book was the section of powerpoint slides on pauses in music. It was an idea I'd never thought of before, but it was so poignant and beautiful. Here's a slide to illustrate (kind of...I don't want to spoil the actual beautiful idea so here's something related):
This is a pretty fast but very thoughtful read. I highly recommend it!