Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Before I get started, let’s just take a look at the list of awards this book has won (According to the Random House website):
FINALIST 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
WINNER 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards
WINNER 2011 Pulitzer Prize
WINNER 2011 L.A. Times Book Prize (Fiction)
WINNER 2011 National Book Critics Circle Awards
WINNER 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

This is an impressive list, and once you read the book you’ll understand why it has received such positive attention.

Goon Squad definitely puts the “new” back in “novel.” This is not a book that picks one character and chronicles her life events from start to finish. This is a new rendering of a way to tell a story. Egan picks two characters, Sasha and Bennie, and shares events from their lives Past, Present and Future simultaneously through the perspective of many characters with which they cross paths. At the start of each chapter, the reader is put to the test of figuring out where this chapter fits in chronologically and how the narrator of the chapter relates to the two protagonists. Egan does a good job of making this game fun without distracting from the story. A careful reader will have no problems matching up the timelines and relationships as Egan lets the book unfold.

The ending of this book is what makes it stand out, for me. Leading up to the last chapter, you get a strong sense of disconnection. I started to wonder what it all meant; how did these stories of individual character experiences matter? But in the last chapter (no spoilers, I promise!) there is a moment of confluence where every story leads back to the ending and as a reader you feel satisfied – your questions have been answered. The last chapter of Goon Squad is not just an ending, but a conclusion. If you were to map it out, I would put the individual chapters as rivers leading to the ocean, where the last chapter is the bay where they all meet and combine into one powerful body of water. Everything about it feels complete.

OVERALL: This is a wonderful book! It is absolutely worth the time it takes to read. Because there are so many characters and timelines to keep track of, you do need to pay close attention – this is not the kind of book you can read on the subway on the way to work. However, it is absolutely a must read for 2011 if you are a fan of great literature and beautiful storytelling. Go ahead, start it now!

If you’ve read A Visit from the Goon Squad, tell us what you think in the comments below. What are your must reads for 2011?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: Traveling with Pomegranates

First of all let me apologize for taking a month off without warning. Life got busy and now I'm trying to catch up. Let’s get to the review.

Normally I don’t like to review memoirs but this book was too meaningful for me to pass over. It took me only 2 days to read this wonderful travelogue. It is the story of mother and daughter looking for answers in age old religion and ancient sites. I loved it because I love the idea of looking for answers across the globe, but also because the answers these women found helped me in my own search.

The events in the book take place around the time that Ann is graduating from college and trying to figure out what she should do with her life. That’s exactly the place I’m at right now, so although our situations are different I felt like she was speaking directly to me at certain points. Obviously not everyone will have the same reaction but I think that most women can relate to the issues that Sue grapples with throughout their trips. Sue is approaching fifty and has to come to terms with aging and the thought that someday she will die. They write prolifically about their individual situations and how dealing with these things brought them closer together.

The style of this book keeps it lively – alternating mother & daughter chapters give the reader a view of the situation in multiple perspectives. I love how Sue will tell one tale from her point of view and then Ann will tell the same anecdote in the next chapter. You can really see the similarities between mother and daughter while each individual personality shines through. It’s fun to watch them learn to understand each other as friends.

There is an emphasis on religion as part of both women’s growth throughout the book, but I don’t think that it is overwhelming. The bits of religion or spirituality that are in the book feel more like a college course than a sermon.  I personally don't associate with a particular religion and I did not feel like I was being preached to at any point. Rather I felt that I was reading the story of how two women individually developed their own faiths as they were trying to sort out other issues in their lives. I found it engaging and interesting to read.

Overall, this book is a great read for women, especially those of us who are going through the same issues that Sue and Ann each deal with in the book. By no means is this a self-help book, but it will likely put a smile on your face and may even give hope for the future if you need it. Outside of that realm, this book would make an excellent choice for a writer (male or female) who is struggling to find his voice. All in all this is a tremendous book and at the very least read it as a travelogue of beautiful places.

You can read more reviews of Traveling with Pomegranates here.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.