Synopses & Reviews
Jennifer Egan's spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist's couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city's demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life -- divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house — and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang — who thrived and who faltered — and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both — and escape the merciless progress of time — in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
“It may be the smartest book you can get your hands on this summer.” The Los Angeles Times
"Jennifer Egan is a rare bird: an experimental writer with a deep commitment to character, whose fiction is at once intellectually stimulating and moving....It’s a tricky book, but in the best way. When I got to the end, I wanted to start from the top again immediately, both to revisit the characters and to understand better how the pieces fit together. Like a masterful album, this one demands a replay.” The San Francisco Chronicle
"For all its postmodern flourishes, Goon Squad is as traditional as a Dickens novel....Her aim is not so much to explode traditional storytelling as to explore how it responds to the pressures and opportunities of the digital age." Newsweek
"Clever. Edgy. Groundbreaking....For all of its cool, languid, arched-eyebrow sophistication — that’s the part that will make you think ‘Didion’ — and for all of the glitteringly gorgeous sentences that flit through its pages like exotic fish — that’s the DeLillo part — the novel is actually a sturdy, robust, old-fashioned affair. It features characters about whom you come to care deeply as you watch them doing things they shouldn't, acting gloriously, infuriatingly human.” The Chicago Tribune
"Well-defined characters and an engaging narrative....Readers will enjoy seeing the disparate elements of this novel come full circle.” Library Journal
"Egan is a writer of cunning subtlety, embedding within the risky endeavors of seductively complicated characters a curious bending of time....a hilarious melancholy, enrapturing, unnerving, and piercingly beautiful mosaic of a novel.” Booklist
"Poignant....A nice reminder that even in the age of Kindles and Facebook, ambitious fiction is still one of the best tools available to help us understand the rapidly changing world....Her startling, apocalyptic take on the near future is all the more chilling for its utter plausibility, and brings the realization that Egan was up to much more here than just trying to reinvent the novel's format. You’ll want to recommend it to all your Facebook friends." Associated Press
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.
From one of today's boldest writers comes a sly, surprising, and exhilarating novel about time, survival, and the electrifying sparks ignited at the seams of our lives by colliding destinies.
About the Author
Jennifer Egan is the author of The Keep, Look at Me, The Invisible Circus,
and the story collection Emerald City.
Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope, All-Story,
and her nonfiction appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine.
She lives with her husband and sons in Brooklyn.
Visit the Jennifer Egan’s official website: www.jenniferegan.com
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Jennifer Egan’s stunning new work, A Visit from the Goon Squad. In a satirical and oddly touching book, Egan brings to life the recent past, captures the confusions and ambiguities of the present, and speculates about the future of America.
1. A Visit from the Goon Squad
shifts among various perspectives, voices, and time periods, and in one striking chapter (pp. 234–309), departs from conventional narrative entirely. What does the mixture of voices and narrative forms convey about the nature of experience and the creation of memories? Why has Egan arranged the stories out of chronological sequence?
2. In “A to B” Bosco unintentionally coins the phrase “Time’s a goon” (p. 127), used again by Bennie in “Pure Language” (p. 332). What does Bosco mean? What does Bennie mean? What does the author mean?
3. “Found Objects” and “The Gold Cure” include accounts of Sasha’s and Bennie’s therapy sessions. Sasha picks and chooses what she shares: “She did this for Coz’s protection and her own—they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances” (pp. 8–9). Bennie tries to adhere to a list of no-no’s his shrink has supplied (p. 24). What do the tone and the content of these sections suggest about the purpose and value of therapy? Do they provide a helpful perspective on the characters?
4. Lou makes his first appearance in “Ask Me If I Care” (pp. 39–58) as an unprincipled, highly successful businessman; “Safari” (pp. 59–83) provides an intimate, disturbing look at the way he treats his children and lover; and “You (Plural)” (pp. 84–91) presents him as a sick old man. What do his relationships with Rhea and Mindy have in common? To what extent do both women accept (and perhaps encourage) his abhorrent behavior, and why to they do so? Do the conversations between Lou and Rolph, and Rolph’s interactions with his sister and Mindy, prepare you for the tragedy that occurs almost twenty years later? What emotions does Lou’s afternoon in “You (Plural)” with Jocelyn and Rhea provoke? Is he basically the same person he was in the earlier chapters?
5. Why does Scotty decide to get in touch with Bennie? What strategies do each of them employ as they spar with each other? How does the past, including Scotty’s dominant role in the band and his marriage to Alice, the girl both men pursued, affect the balance of power? In what ways is Scotty’s belief that “one key ingredient of so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and special, that those included in it are privileged and those excluded from it are missing out” (p. 98) confirmed at the meeting? Is their reunion in “Pure Language” a continuation of the pattern set when they were teenagers, or does it reflect changes in their fortunes as well as in the world around them?
6. Sasha’s troubled background comes to light in “Good-bye, My Love” (pp. 208–33). Do Ted’s recollections of her childhood explain Sasha’s behavior? To what extent is Sasha’s “catalog of woes” (p. 213) representative of her generation as a whole? How do Ted’s feelings about his career and wife color his reactions to Sasha? What does the flash-forward to “another day more than twenty years after this one” (p. 233) imply about the transitory moments in our lives?
7. Musicians, groupies, and entertainment executives and publicists figure prominently in A Visit from the Goon Squad. What do the careers and private lives of Bennie, Lou, and Scotty (“X’s and O’s”; “Pure Language”); Bosco and Stephanie (“A to B”); and Dolly (“Selling the General”) suggest about American culture and society over the decades? Discuss how specific details and cultural references (e.g., names of real people, bands, and venues) add authenticity to Egan’s fictional creations.
8. The chapters in this book can be read as stand-alone stories. How does this affect the reader’s engagement with individual characters and the events in their lives? Which characters or stories did you find the most compelling? By the end, does everything fall into place to form a satisfying storyline?
9. Read the quotation from Proust that Egan uses as an epigraph (p. ix). How do Proust’s observations apply to A Visit from the Goon Squad? What impact do changing times and different contexts have on how the characters perceive and present themselves? Are the attitudes and actions of some characters more consistent than others', and if so, why?
10. In a recent interview Egan said, “I think anyone who’s writing satirically about the future of America and life often looks prophetic. . . . I think we’re all part of a zeitgeist and we’re all listening to and absorbing the same things, consciously or unconsciously. . . .” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 8, 2010). Considering current social trends and political realities, including fears of war and environmental devastation, evaluate the future Egan envisions in “Pure Language” and “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.”
11. What does “Pure Language” have to say about authenticity in a technological and digital age? Would you view the response to Bennie, Alex, and Lulu’s marketing venture differently if the musician had been someone other than Scotty Hausmann and his slide guitar? Stop/Go (from “The Gold Cure”), for example?
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