Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Visit from the Goon Squad

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of A Visit from the Goon Squad (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010).

It's kind of a novel and kind of a collection of short stories, and A Visit from the Goon Squad is a really clever and entertaining book. The writer, Jennifer Egan, created a timeline of events for two characters. One is a music industry exec, Bernie Salazar, who in the 1990s has a comfortable job at a major record label, and the other is his assistant, Sasha, who struggles with kleptomania. Over the course of about 45 years, their stories cross paths with lots of other people, and, in thirteen chapters, Egan tells stories of these two, or some of the intersecting players in their lives.

So it's far more than just thirteen short stories about two characters. It's a low-key epic that won 2010's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the way it tells incredibly interesting stories that have a deep but subtle link in the passage of time and aging. I found myself starting each new chapter very excited about who would lead the story: somebody we've met, somebody we've heard about in passing, or somebody brand new, their connection to Bernie or Sasha, or one of the other leads of a previous story, not yet apparent.

The only fumble is a pretty minor one. Egan set the final story a few years in the future, before Apple's iPhone and its autocorrect put an end to all that awful "l33t"-type of the 2000s. She gave the communication technology of this story an even further devolved use of abbreviations and random capitalization. Well, she loses a point for predictions, but she had plenty to spare in this heart-filled, sad, knowing, and very clever book. Happily recommended.

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