Monday, January 16, 2012

book review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

“If I had a view like this to look down on every day, I would have the energy and inspiration to conquer the world. The trouble is, when you most need such a view, no one gives it to you.”
There is something rather hynotic about finding out what happened to people from your past. It explains the success of sites like Facebook and Friends Reunited as people look for clues to what became of their old flames and friends.

There is also a dual attraction of getting to fast forward through someone's life if the absence of contact has been a long one and so you can go from college friend to their middle age in just a clik and a read of their activity.

That dual desire is something that gets tapped into here at both levels. Minor characters who we meet perhaps just for one chapter get their life story told for us before they go, so for instance we find out that people chase or fail to get their dreams, before we get back to the main few characters.

The two main people the book focuses on are Bennie,l a record producer and his PA Sasha. They both have problems, his perhaps one of growing old in a young person's world and her's a kleptomania that points to deeper problems from her past.

Starting with those two sharing alternate chapters the style is to roll it out to reveal more of their pasts as different characters come into play. So as we find out about Bennie being in a band we are in turn introduced to the main band members. That then reveals the influences on Bennie and fill in the blanks of his past.

Likewise with Sasha we get to see her through the eyes of old boyfriends and family as she spends a troubled youth scraping by around the world using theft and guile to survive.

Their are coincidences, moments that perhaps seem too convienent but then again that's what makes the story work so I'm not complaining.

There is also a sense that moments that shape us when young can stay with us forever and that is both a positive and a negative. The world is changing and that also provides problems for Bennie and Sasha. The music industry isn't what it is and at the end the 'pointers' who download and listen to their music on devices using their fingers are the ones dominating the landscape.

The book has recieved a lot of praise but I'm not sorry having delayed reading this because it provided a chance to come to it in the quietness after the first rush of reaction had died down.

I enjoyed it, found some of its perhaps a bit too structured, but overall will remember it for its challenge to look at your own life and think about the story you are writing for those friends and old acquaintances to stumble across on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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