Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

I wasn't sure what to expect from "A Visit from the Goon Squad", so I'm not exactly sure if I was happy with what I got. The best-selling novel by Jennifer Egan is more like a collection of stories involving music and people who are intertwined. Bennie is a music executive, and Sasha his assistant. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone different, whether Bennie or Sasha or someone else that has been in their lives for some important reason at some point.

I recognized two of the chapters immediately, possibly through a reading on The New York Times Book Review podcast or PRI: Selected Shorts. It makes sense to me now why the chapters could be read out of context: Each is its own story and can stand on its own. I read the book almost like "Winesburg, Ohio", which is a collection of stories about people that are somehow related or tied to one another. Several times while reading "Goon Squad," I had to skim back through earlier chapters to find out why a name seemed familiar or to figure out why I should know a character's name.

In that regard, I liked the book. I enjoy reading short stories, and it was kind of neat to revisit characters who seemingly had lost their role after each chapter ended. Her style also made the book a little more difficult to read. Each character had a distinctly different voice and told his or her story in his or her own way - and she didn't even identify who was speaking at the start of each chapter. (Maybe doing so would be "dumbing down" the book too much, or Egan wanted to challenge her readers to think harder while reading.)

My favorite chapter of the book was told via PowerPoint slides by Sasha's daughter. It was the easiest to read, even though the ideas, actions and dialogue weren't necessarily written in order or in complete sentences. The somewhat random visual nature of that particular story made me more interested and gave me more than just the plain blocks of text from the rest of the book. I'm glad she didn't use this method for every chapter, but it was an interesting and neat way to tell a story from a different point of view in an entirely different way.

The publisher turned those slides into a nine-minute video posted on YouTube. Watch it below (unless you're super worried about spoilers, which you don't really need to be because the book is told in a somewhat disjointed manner anyway):

I'm still kind of undecided as to whether I liked the book. It was a little weird, and I'm not sure exactly the story Egan was trying to tell or what she wanted me to get out of it. If you have read this book, what did you think?

Check out a sample of the book below:

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl

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