Monday, August 15, 2011

50 Books in a Year: Book #34 A Visit from the Goon Squad

Every Summer I spend a great deal of time feeling nostalgic. When I was 11, I distinctly remember walking to the playground up the road, sitting on a swing and feeling nostalgic that I would never be able to do that in the same way again once I entered junior high. I remember lamenting the loss of youth when I turned double digits ("I'll never be one digit again" I wailed to my mother who didn't understand why I was crying in my birthday cake) and don't even get me started on what I did on my 30th birthday or how I recovered the loss on my 31st birthday. I'm all about remember the past with that breezy voice and far off glance of a woman way closer to deaths' door than I actually am.

I find that at 35, two years into being a married parent of an almost two year old (if you can't do the math, you may read here), getting ready to start my 13th (lucky number, no!?) year of teaching, having lived in a town, by choice, almost as long as I lived in my hometown I have many things to be nostalgic about...enter A Visit from the Goon Squad  by Jennifer Egan, a book that for lack of a better word is all about nostalgia...whiney, tragic, beautiful and mesmerzing nostalgia.

This book is a set of short stories (Jennifer Egan will say otherwise) that weave in and out of a group of lives. While reading don't make the mistake of forgetting a character because he/she will pop back up when you least expect it. I thought I'd write a little about each one. Overall this book rocked my socks off and I suggest it to anyone who has a tender heart for the past...not, that you want to relive it, but that you know while it's happening that it's shaping you into the person you are today.

I already posted most of these comments on the discussion board for the book at Goodreads.

Chapter 1: Found Objects
I couldn't help, after reading about this book, thinking that it was very similiar to The Imperfectionist, in that it was going to be stories about people living their lives, lives that take unexpected turns and twist, but always manage to survive, lives that are all somehow connected. So, I was hesitate as that book made me feel soooooo melancholy from the get-go with the story about that workholic man and the sad reason behind it. In books like this the first story really does set the tone. I like that this story, a story about a klepto and her one night stand, with its details about the bathtub, and her feelings and the therapists made me laugh, made me feel ashamed, made me feel for the boy whose precious note was stolen, made me want to take a long bath and made me want to read on to learn more, while that was a real story it was darned upbeat and honest!

Chapter 2: The Gold Cure
I knew I was going to like Bennie, as messed up as he is/was, when he lets his son try his medicine, noting how much it cost him, but also noting that he's eating it without coffee and is curious about what that's like. Sure he can't communicate with his children as well as he'd like (what parent can all of the time, if you are that person tell me how you do it) and he's lived a pretty rock and roll life, but he does regret and that makes him human enough for me to like him (although I found out later, I like his ex-wife more!)
Chapter 3: Ask Me If I Care
This is my second favorite chapter, I love a good story about unrequited love! I like Rhea best and even years later when she and Jocelynn visit Lou I like her more, you can tell she's going to be ok, by the end of this chapter. Love her!      

Chapter 4: Safari
This chapter is beautiful. I don't want to ruin the feeling I have about it, by talking about bittersweet. I love how simple actions and words have effects on us for years and shape who we are.      

Chapter 5: You (Plural)
Lou is icky and he will die being an icky man having learned nothing even after the death of his son...sadness, as I liked Rolph. Jocelynn will be fine, now that she's seen Lou. You can tell it was touch and go before that...I like that she looks at Lou and realizes that she let this weak man affect her so much and for no reason. I like that Rhea is a mom and a good one living a normal life in Seattle...this would seem like failure to Lou but you can tell that he is in awe of her and has always been. I like that Jocelynn recognizes that Rhea was really only 'pretending'. In the end everyone heals...maybe even Lou...a little.      

Chapter 6: X's and O's
This story just made me depressed. With every detail I thought of Scotty as being more pathetic than before. In some weird way he reminds me of a Hemingway Hero and is reminicent of the old man in The Old Man and the Sea...just keeps doing what he knows he should be doing, the one great fish, the failure, but the ultimate triumph...although he has nothing to show for it, but the carcass of his crumpled, used jacket.      

Chapter 7: A to B
I love this story because I love Stephanie...she's sneaking around trying to plan this perfect lie and it just keeps getting screwed up and I love that she trust her a husband (a man that shouldn't be trusted) so much that she notices that Kathy and Bennie have something that brushes it off. It's jules that draws attention to the fact that they are both hiding something and Stephanie's reaction to that, the fact that she's sneaking around, but really that means nothing in the light of Bennies' affair, is so real as to be painful and we know that after she has her moment in the grass with crazy Noreen watching everything, she has to go back into the house, confess (like she said she was going to) and break it, as we know she does after reading chapter 2...we know she breaks it in such a way that Bennie is left impotent and we could see that coming with the harsh way she treats bosco after he calls her old. This woman with the tattoo and spiky brown hair may think she's different than those blondies, but she really isn't.      

Chapter 8: Selling the General
Frankly, even after reading it to the end, I can't tell if I supposed to like Kitty and Dolly. Was Kitty being brave or stupid? Did she truly have a death wish? And, while what she did saved Kitty, Dolly took the hush money and let the general go on doing what we now know he truly is doing...that makes me not like Dolly. Then she does unconditionally love her unplanned daughter so much that you can't help but like her and Lulu reminds me of Rory Gilmore (way more responsible, almost too responsible, than her parent). I like that Lulu gets the wind knocked out of her sails on this trip and learns to love her mother as her mother, not the woman is purposely made her life miserable. hmm...and as I write this maybe I liked this chapter more than I realized, although it's just silly...I mean really what dim-wit would put huge containers of HOT oil above everyone...really? who would go off to a war-torn country with an out of work actress for PR for the regime purposes? I do think that it's true that people will pretend to be somewhere that they perceive as desirable while totally dissing the event and person in charge!      

Chapter 9: Forty-Minute Lunch
Um...interesting. At first it was fun to read the footnotes, then it got tedious, but I felt compelled to read all of them. I found the footnotes more interesting than the story itself (I enjoy snarky and informative those in An Abundance of Katherines by John Green), as I dislike interviews written in this manner (I suppose that's why I'm not a SPIN mag fan!). I'm glad this chapter was written in this way, as it tells us what kind of writer Jules is/was and that he really is a darkly humourous character who will be able to pull off Bosco's comeback!

Chapter 10: Out of Body
Powerful! I didn't really like this chapter as I could see where it was going to end, and still had/wanted to read on, as I didn't want to take for granted what I thought was going to be happening...I didn't mind that Rob died, when I didn't know him, but getting to see a glimpse of him and understanding the Drew and Rob and Sasha dynamic more made me quite sad.      

Chapter 11: Goodbye, My Love
I hate when I can feel something slipping out of my grasp and can't find the words or the actions to save it. This what I felt about Ted the whole time. He didn't go to Naples to find Sasha, he went there to find himself, too bad he didn't find the courage to bring that self back with him to The States. It was also nice to finally see exactly what Sasha was doing in Italy.

Chapter 12: Great Rock and Roll Pauses
I got it from the get go...and, didn't want to like it (as the whole world did), but loved it...this is how I think and act (in mind maps and clusters) and appreciate that Egan not only got the voice of a tween, but let us into the lives of the others so wonderfully, beautiful! I especially like the part where she ask her father about rob, kids can be so insensitive sometimes because we don't realize until much later that our parents had lives before us and it's those lives that shaped them and, in essence, made us...I like how drew handles it...we know his pain in answering even if she doesn't. Wow!      

Chapter 13: Pure Language
I can think of better ways to end such a true to life book. The futuristic element was a little distracting. I like that we get to see Lulu again and she is kick butt and I like that Scotty isn't left as pathetic as I thought he would be. I wish it wasn't the end...

5 Stars
A really great post about it...with a map! (See I told  you Rosie was cool!). I will also be using this post again to demonstrate how authors should talk to their readers...the people who make or break their careers...but that is another day.

And, if you are really all that interested Goodreads chose it as their inaugural book club book so there are tons of discussions about it, somebody even put the chapters in chronological order!


  1. Great (and thorough!) review- had a very similar reaction - the nostalgia, and it did take me a few stories to get into it. Loved Safari, and from there I was hooked.

  2. I knew you would like it! I'm so glad you did! And thanks for linking to the map!

  3. Wow - a chapter-by-chapter review. You really loved this! As it happens, so did I, for all the same reasons as you did - the searing nostalgia, and the real satisfaction of the weave of characters, finding out more about each one even when their chapter was over. Realistic too, in that in life we do find out what happened to people gradually and not always from the same source.

  4. Great review, Stephanie! I love short story collections.



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