A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)

This is one bizarre book.  Calling it a novel is a bit of a stretch–it’s more like short stories loosely connected, a genre I’ve often embraced  (I love Nicole Krauss’s Great House and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, along with numerous other works of a similar style).  But this one just doesn’t work very well, probably because I didn’t care enough about most of the characters.  I think there are just too many, and just about the time we get enough information to care about someone, Egan is on to a new story or new character and/or a new time.  It’s hard enough to figure out how the characters’ lives relate to one another, but she further complicates those relationships by flashing backward and forward in time, switching point of view, and writing the story in multiple genres, causing the reader to focus too much on questions of who and when rather than why.  As writing guru William Zinsser warns, if you make your reader work to0 hard, he/she will soon give up. And that’s what I was tempted to do several times.  The plot (if we can call it that) revolves around the music industry, specifically the punk rock industry, spanning from the 80’s to the 2020’s; the cast of characters is loosely tied together by an 80’s band, the Conduits; and the overarching theme is the passage of time (goon–thus the title). Within this messy structure, however, there are some interesting characters and storylines–my favorites were Bennie and Stephanie’s life at the swanky country club and Lou’s African safari with his kids and his new girlfriend–as well as some interesting genres like Ally’s story told through her powerpoint slides.  And there are some great lines like Jules’s comment on modern day multi-tasking: “Everybody sounds stoned, because they’re e-mailing people the whole time they’re talking to you.”  So we get nuggets of great stuff throughout the book.  Egan is clearly talented, original, edgy, and creative—I just think she tried to do too much in one novel. (fiction)

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