May Selection: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011)

When we meet on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, we will discuss Bill Hagen’s selection:

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad, (Knopf 2011) 273 pages.

Bill provides the following information about his selection:
Augustus John, the famous portrait artist, concluded, after a long career painting the famous, that his subjects (and people generally) fall into one of two categories: the unique or the best of a common type. Applying John’s standard to books, I’d put Goon Squad in the first category. The best evidence for doing so is the book’s atypical narrative format; for it can be read as a novel or an assortment of linked 13 short stories. Also, by the writer’s design, it’s hard to find a single central character, narrative arc, or plot construction. Her Pulitzer Prize citation calls the book an “inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed”. NPR critic Jonathan Bastian cites “Egan (as) one of the most recent and successful examples of a trend that has been steadily seeping into the world of contemporary literature”. The unusual format of the novel, taking place across multiple platforms, has led some critics to label the novel “post-postmodern”.

The main purpose of my recent trip was fishing in Northern Michigan in pursuit of Nick Adams. Most of my fellow anglers were quite literate and had read the book. So while tying streamers or nymphs to our tippets, we discussed its merits. Some thought the first chapter best, others, the second. Some liked the PowerPoint chapter, while others thought it too clever by half. Most were intrigued with the book’s unique chapter structure. One compared it favorably to the film Pulp Fiction. All were glad that Sasha reappeared. I was surprised at their general sentiment that, while the book was a good read, it didn’t warranted such great honors as the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and The New York Times and Time Magazines Best Book of 2010 award. Age may account for this lack of great enthusiasm. All were over 50 years old.

One question for tomorrow might be: Does Goon Squad deserve such great acclaim?

I look forward to our discussion.



About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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