Saturday, September 10, 2011

Visit By The Goon Squad (Revisited), by Jennifer Egan

I have already reviewed this book here, but I am thinking about it again in light of Slate's recent Audio Book Club Podcast about it.  It's the format that was raised, and which I think is more deliberate than I thought before.

One way to describe this book is that it is a series of short stories that interlock around a world of rock and roll.  The two most central characters are Bennie Salazar, who goes from a member of a high school rock group to a successful producer on a comeback, and Sasha, a women who was originally Bennie's assistant.  The stories travel back and forth in time, and have as their subjects a number of people who are more or less tangential to Bennie and Sasha.  The parts to create a sort of a whole--it would not be accurate to call this "a book of short stories" because they are more connected than that, although it is hard to call it "a novel" because it is so diffuse.  It lacks a central figure or narrative arc.

I have come to the tentative conclusion that the best way to think of A Visit by the Goon Squad is as a concept album--the literary equivalent of Sargent Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.  I still think Sargent Pepper is primarily a collection of songs, and any larger arc or form is little more than coincidence--but people have long claimed that it is the expression of a singular vision and has to be viewed as a whole.

I feel the same way about Goon Squad--there is a little bit more than mere assemblage, but less than a complete narrative.  Which is actually a very interesting artistic choice for a book about the people who make rock records.

So, I'm happier with the book as a whole when I view it through that lens.  Not a bad result!

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