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?

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