With very good reason, Jennifer Egan‘s fifth title, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, announced earlier this month. As with most major award winners, I try to take a look or a listen (forget the cat; curiosity broadens the mind, right?) … but I confess that I don’t always finish what I start. Not so with this one!
With Roxana Ortega’s narration shoved into my ears, I even ran extra miles to keep the story going … truly, Goon Squad is that addictive. The only regret I might have about listening rather than reading is missing Chapter 12 in print. But I won’t spoil that for either listener (which has sound effects added!) or reader. The book just came out this week in paperback, available for the cost of about two cups of good caffeine, so no excuse not to literally imbibe now!
Goon is another title best enjoyed without too much prior knowledge. Although, it also proves to be such an inventive time warping romp by book’s end that all you want to do is talk about it … So allow me a moment of minimal indulgence, oh please.
The book opens with Sasha on her therapist’s couch, reliving her first and last date with Alex and confessing to yet another kleptomaniacal incident – or two, actually, by date’s end. Sasha is music executive Bennie Salazar’s assistant, who has lusted for her always from a distance, although he also relies on her to be his virility meter (which is currently less than zero).
Sasha and Bennie’s employee/boss relationship make up the exact point of intersection for this inventive, uniquely over-under-multi-layered story of diverse lives that wanders in unpredictable directions from decades past to sometime in the future. Egan’s ability to effortlessly bend time requires careful recall of details from chapters past: for example, Bennie’s ex-wife’s ex-boss’s daughter eventually marries the Columbia University-robotics-PhD-ed grandson (one of 63 grandchildren) of the Kenyan warrior who dances with Bennie’s mentor’s teenage daughter one moonlit African desert night. Sound complicated? Not in Egan’s delightful, teasing, enlightening prose.
Each new character, each unexpected intersection is another invitation to witness the surprising shifts of everyday lives that somehow come together to create this magical odyssey. Forget the coffee for a couple of days; don’t miss this adventure … its adrenaline comes complete with eclectic soundtrack.