Friday, May 13, 2011
Novelists are tasked with leaving readers with the grave and glorious illusion that they have been given access to a world, ushered in. This exists, the novelist says. I’ve seen it. I’ve been there. Let me show you.
Jennifer Egan’s many-prized A Visit From The Goon Squad does not merely render a world. It wends readers through the hallows and hollows of vast geographies, personalities, and zones. Goon Squad is a composite of abutments and abrasions—a savvy, smart, sometimes bitter, often funny suite of thirteen tales about ingeniously interrelated slackers and singers, druggies and parents, inglorious PR mavericks and thieves, people who were young and people who grew old. Time is Egan’s primary character, her first concern. How we hope. How we remember. And how, most devastatingly, we age.
It took me many days to read this book, but I’m not sure why. I would read a few chapters, set the book aside, return—not the smartest approach to a book in which it is necessary to place and remember a stream of characters who are minor, then major, then receding, then right back at you again. You have to work at this book, in other words—not because Egan is trying to be difficult, but because Egan is so very smart, and so frequently sly. She’s postmodern, if I understand the term. A risk taker, a jokester, a woman who (now so famously) can tell a very touching, humane story through the device of power point slides. Oddly, I was perhaps most moved by the tale delivered through those infamous slides.
Egan can also write a hell of a sentence, and in fact she has written an abundance of them here. I close this post with an example, a description of an undone rocker who we’ve also known, in pages elsewhere, as a singing tour de force.
Look at what Egan can do:
Nowadays he was huge—from medications, he claimed, both post-cancer and antidepressant—but a glance into his trash can nearly always revealed an empty gallon box of Dreyer’s Rocky Road ice cream. His red hair had devolved into a stringy gray ponytail. An unsuccessful hip replacement had left him with the lurching, belly-hoisting walk of a refrigerator on a hand truck. Still, he was awake, dressed—even shaven. The blinds of his loft were up and a tinge of shower humidity hung in the air, pleasantly cut by the smell of brewing coffee.