Jennifer Egan's A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD is as good as everyone says it is, so run along and read it in haste.
What, you need more? Very well, here’s why Jennifer Egan’s lauded all over book is this good: Its structure and narrative are working perfectly in concert with each other to deliver the kind of meaning you so often want in life, but don’t get.
Like a good house, it’s all in the bones. The 13 chapters in GOON SQUAD initially present themselves as linked stories in which you get to know a set of characters, a lifestyle, a social group, up close -- and then you jump away, trailing off with one of the characters to a new city or (sometimes) a new life. Only (and here’s the genius thing) they don’t really fall away and when you encounter them later, you’re so happy to find them again. The ones who don’t get that kind of grace are often immortalized within the text itself, but not in the sense that you feel they need to be gotten rid of. Even the book’s arguably most tragic figure doesn’t end at his ending. (I loved that chapter. Heartstopping.)
And then there’s the matter of Chapter 12, the unconventional one (whose unconvention I’m about to spoil if you haven’t heard about it yet). Let me tell you, I open PowerPoint at work more days than I don’t, and thus believed myself to be inoculated against Chapter 12’s charms. This simple story, told by a kid (which makes perfect sense not only in the future, but because kids are the population for whom PowerPoint is still a fun cool alternative to papers and posters) absolutely worked on me. There are plenty of words to describe that loneliness the narrator of that chapter feels, but none better than its format for that moment.
(I cried over both Tournament of Books finalists this year and I own it. My sticky-marshmallow heart, covered in lint and salt -- take it or leave it.)
If I had one minor quibble with this book, it’s that some of the innovations described for the future aren’t so much futuristic as current. That’s my only complaint, really, and it’s tiny, but I thought it was worth pointing out. If you feel like you’re in a reading rut, this book will shake you out. I can’t wait to catch up on Egan’s back catalog. So just in case you were waiting for my endorsement… this is it.
Earlier on Egan: