Current Affairs, Orange Prize for Fiction, Prizes

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan – 3/10

“Time’s a goon, right? Isn’t that the expression?”

As I find myself completely unable to understand this book, the summary comes from the back cover:

A Visit from the Goon Squad vividly captures the moments where lives interact, and where fortunes ebb and flow. Egan depicts with elegant prose and often heart-wrenching simplicity, the sad consequences for those who couldn’t fake it during their wild youth – madness, suicide or prison – in this captivating, wryly humorous story of temptation and loss.

I’ve seen at least 20 great reviews of this book (linked at the bottom of this page), and I know it’s been short-listed for a gazillion prizes and won quite a few of them (NBCC 2010, Pulitzer 2011, longlisted for Orange 2011), and I just don’t get it.

The characters are certainly vivid – Sasha, the kleptomaniac; Bennie, the sad middle-aged producer who seems intent on giving himself and his son heavy metal poisoning; La Doll, the misfortunate publicist extraordinaire and Lulu her daughter… but they were all unlikeable and unsympathetic – so set on being different, being “those who couldn’t fake it”. I didn’t want any of them to get out of their predicaments, I didn’t feel sorry for any of them.

The way Egan weaves these interlinked short stories together, moving back and forth through time and characters and media (including the now infamous Powerpoint chapter, 75 Powerpoint slides of Sasha’s daughter’s thoughts – I thought it was actually rather good, certainly unusual and absorbing), is clever and I like the idea (much as I enjoyed the linked vignettes of One Day). I just wish she’d used more likeable characters. Plot is near to non-existent – just some miserably parochial occurrences in the lives of the indifferent.

What did I miss that was so spectacular? So polarising? So prize-winning?

I do try to make a habit of linking to other reviews (otherwise why am I saving all the links?), but for this one I have split out the lovers and the haters.

The fans:

Fleur Fisher; Ready When You Are, C.B.; Literary Musings; Buried in Print; The New Dork Review of Books; Teadevotee; London Review of Books; Just William’s Luck; The Reading Ape; Hungry Like the Woolf; Sandi at You’ve GOTTA Read This; NPR; TIME magazine (Top 10 fiction books of 2010); Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles; The Mookse and the Gripes; Keep Calm and Read a Book

The unconvinced:

JoV at Bibliojunkie; Simon at Savidge Reads; Verity; Kevin From Canada; John Self

(the ‘aye’s seem to have it.)


A profile at; a spot of autocorrecting at Like Fire; interview of Egan after Goon Squad won the Pulitzer

Additional info:
Personal copy from Bookmooch.
Publisher: Corsair, paperback, 349 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.

21 thoughts on “A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan – 3/10”

  1. Did you actually finish this book? I’ve heard of some people that didn’t. I have decided not to bother with this book as the book friends who enjoy the same books as me didn’t like it.

    1. I don’t blame you at all – I kept going because it was just interesting enough and I kept waiting for it to be mind-blowingly amazing like all the hype suggested. So I did finish it (I mark the ones I didn’t finish with “DNF”) but I didn’t really gain anything from it.

  2. I just read this very positive review of Goon Squad from OhEmGillie (link) so, interesting to see a negative take. I haven’t read this book yet, it’s been on my list for a while and I picked up a copy when I was visiting the States so I should be reading it…well, soon. I don’t “need” likeable characters when I read, or expect them, but I worry a little about the things you say about the characters and simply not finding a way of caring for them or their predicaments. If I can’t find a way to sympathize with a character, or understand him or her (whether or not I LIKE the character), that’s when a book falls apart for me. I guess I’ll have my own verdict in a few weeks…still, love reading some of the back-and-forth on Egan’s book.

    1. Well you can see that I linked to a lot of very positive reviews as well as a few negative reviews and there is clearly something that is very polarising here as I have seen few so-so ones.
      I don’t know whether I need a likeable character (on short reflection, I DO need one!) but yes, definitely I need to care about them. Will be very interested to see what you think given your different “requirements” of the book.

  3. I read this book a couple of months ago and I was disappointed by it too. I felt very much the same as you about the characters – I didn’t like them and didn’t care what happened to any of them. The lack of plot was a problem for me too. It was certainly very original and different, so I think I can see why it’s been winning prizes, but I didn’t enjoy it much at all.

  4. I have not read this particular novel, but wanted to reflect on the caution with which one must approach prize winning books these days. I have come to the conclusion that judging panels often live by the adage that strange or unusual equals excellence. It is indeed a very fine line and very subjective, and I applaud authors that go out on a limb and in doing so further the art form, but sometimes ‘avante garde’ can just be a polite way of saying ‘just didn’t work’, don’t you think?

    It’s a bit like artists who create canvases that look like a tin of paint has just been thrown on the wall – artistic genius or a colourful spillage – the jury is still out on that one too… 😉

    1. Yes, I’ve had a very mixed experience with prize-winning books so far. Not that I’ve read many yet, so the jury’s out. I’m not a fan of the paint-flinging style either; traditionalist that I am, I like pictures to look like actual pictures…

  5. Thanks for linking back Yvann. I didn’t like it no matter how wonderful people said this book is. I just don’t get it. Welcome to WordPress too, it is better! (I’m biased of course). 😉

      1. I think one of the strengths of this work is that Egan makes some potentially unlikeable characters sympathetic (there is a definite difference). She evokes the struggle of living and enhances the point by showing us how jerks struggle too, or maybe are jerks because they struggle. In other words, maybe they aren’t so much jerks as people very bad at dealing with life (which is not a pass, but may be a mitigating factor).

        Reading with Tea’s advice about trying the first hundred or so pages is good advice, particularly as that early point comes well over halfway through the novel and the remainder mostly consists of the 70 page (ten-fifteen minute) PowerPoint chapter. At the least, I would recommend the free online PowerPoint presentation available at Egan’s website. (I’ve linked to it in another comment below, but prior to this one.)

        Yes, I am a fan. (But I won’t hate if you aren’t.)

  6. Personally, I enjoyed the book- but was not enthralled with it. It was entertaining to me, but the subject matter of each section started to feel a bit repetitive after awhile. Plus, the last chapter should not have been included in the book in my opinion. It was a little too futuristic-it turned the novel into some quasi-science fiction when it certainly had not been up to that point. I enjoy experimentation in writing, but I ended up with the feeling that overall Egan was trying too hard.

    It’s nice to see that everyone is not a devotee of the book! (Truth be told, I was hesitant to post a negative review because I didn’t want to invoke mass wrath.) I applaud your bravery!

    1. I am one of the fans linked above (thanks!), but I can definitely see how others are something less than “enthralled” by it. As Page Pulp points out, the last chapter is the weakest I think. The experimentation may not be to everyone’s taste.

      The PowerPoint chapter was very good and is free online with music clips. Those are ten well-spent minutes, even if you’ve read the chapter (perhaps especially if you have).

      To disagree a little with some above, I thought most of the “main” characters quite likeable. The PowerPoint chapter is an excellent example. While the father is having trouble dealing with the past and, consequently, the present, he is not a bad guy. Moreover, the narrator and her brother are extremely likeable.

      I am just saying: Don’t avoid the book for lack of likeable characters.

    2. I completely agree with the comment about the last chapter – I didn’t realise it at the time but you’re right, moving that far into the future almost made it a different genre.
      I’m happy to invoke mass wrath, responses to this kind of book are always going to be very subjective (any kind of book?) and I have the Delete button 🙂 (although obviously I only delete spam)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s