The Book Pile is an increasingly mountainous heap that lives underneath – and increasingly alongside – my bedroom mirror. It is more likely to be supplemented with new purchases and loaners from friends than conquered in my lifetime.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
978-1-8901-033-7, Corsair (2011)
I’ve always shied away from reviewing books. It’s never been an issue with music,
Besides, on one level you could look at this book as the equivalent of a concept album from your favourite band. And given that the lives of most of its characters involve or are impacted by the music industry to some degree, the comparison is an apt one. There is no linear narrative here. Each chapter is a snapshot from the life of a different character. Lives intersect, paths cross but rarely does anybody’s story reach the typical conclusion. Like songs each stands up on their own, but you’re left to piece together what happens to the central characters from references after the chorus repeats til fade.
“Time’s a goon, right?” music mogul Bennie Salazar remarks at one point. “You gonna let that goon push you around?” Salazar and his red-headed kleptomaniac personal assistant Sasha come across as the central characters from the novel’s back-cover blurb, but the truth is that they aren’t even always the central characters in their own life stories. As the passage of time takes us from a 1970s teenage bedroom to a slightly-terrifying if not entirely unfamiliar not-too-distant future you come to realise that time, and time alone, is the book’s central character – a force of destruction, creation and change. And yet it’s so easy to read I devoured it, breathless, in a day.
Switching between first and third-person narrative, telling its stories through news reports and PowerPoint and text speak, A Visit From The Goon Squad is not afraid to take structural risks. It’s barely a novel, certainly not a collection of short stories. It’s at times funny, at times tragic and always compelling.
Next up: Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh