A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I’m in love with this book.  So much that there is no way I can write a dispassionate review.  I could only gush.  So, instead, I’m posting some pictures, a few charts I made, and a couple of key passages in the hope that they will explain why this book is so great to my book club which I’m sure will hate it.  It’s that kind of book. Maybe these will help you when your book club meets to discuss Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.

Here we go:

“You can, Scotty—you have to,” Bennie said, with his usual calm, but through his thinning silver hair Alex caught a shimmer of sweat on his crown.  “Time’s a goon, right?  You gonna let that goon push you around?”
As Ted sat, feeling the evolution of the afternoon, he found himself thinking of Susan.  Not the slightly different version of Susan, but Susan herself–his wife–on a day many years ago, before Ted had begun folding up his desire into the tiny shape it had become.

Sasha’s Circle.  Map by C.B. James
Each color group represents one story/character set

On a trip to new York riding the Staten Island Ferry for fun, becuase neither one of them had ever done it, Susan turned to him suddenly and said, “Let’s make sure it’s always like this.” and so entwined were their thoughts at that point that Ted knew exactly why she’d said it: not because they’d made love that morning or drunk a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse at lunch–because she’d felt the passage of time.    And then Ted felt it, too, in the leaping brown water, and scudding boats and wine–motion, chaos everywhere–and he’d held Susan’s hand and said, “Always.  It will always be like this.”

Chapters in chronological order:

  • A – 4 – “Safari”
  • A – 3 – “Ask Me If I Care”
  • B – 11 – “Goodbye, My Love”
  • B – 10 – “Out of Body”
  • B – 9 – “Forty-Minute Lunch: Kitty Jackson Opens Up About Love, Fame and Nixon!”
  • A – 6 – “X’s and O’s”
  • A – 5 – “You (Plural)”
  • B – 7 – “A to B”
  • B – 8 – “Selling the General”
  • A – 2 – “The Gold Cure”
  • A – 1 – “Found Objects”
  • B – 13 – “Pure Language”
  • B – 12 – “Great Rock and Roll Pauses”

Recently, he’d mentioned that trip in some other context, and Susan had looked him full in the face and chimed, in her sunny new voice “Are you sure that was me?  I don’t remember a thing about it!” and administered a springy little kiss to the top of Ted’s head.  Amnesia, he’d thought.  Brainwashing. But it came to him now that Susan had simply been lying.  He’d let her go, conserving himself for–what?  It frightened Ted that he had no idea.  But he’d let her go, and she was gone.

“The pause makes you think the song will end.  And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved.  But then the song does end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

Character map by C.B. James
Each color group represents one story/character set

The warrior smiles at Charlie.  He’s nineteen, only five years older than she is, and has lived away from his village since he was ten.  But he’s sung for enough American tourists to recognize that in her world, Charlie is a child.  Thirty-five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence between the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire.  He’ll have had four wives and sixty-three grandchildren by then, one of whom, a boy named Joe, will inherit his lalema: the iron hunting dagger in a leather scabbard now hanging at his side.  Joe will go to college at Columbia and study engineering, becoming an expert in visual robotic technology that detects the slightest hint of irregular movement (the legacy of a childhood spent scanning the grass for lions).  He’ll marry an American named Lulu and remain in New York, where he’ll invent a scanning device that becomes standard issue for crowd security.  He and Lulu will buy a loft in Tribeca, where his grandfather’s hunting dagger will be displayed inside a cube of Plexiglass, directly under a skylight.

Turned out everyone in my book club loved it.  



The review first ran on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in 2011. This is the review that got my old blog a mention in The Gaurdian, something I feel a little smug about.  That day got me over 1000 hits, more than I’ve ever had before or since.  It’s an unusual book; it deserves an unusual review.  I have kept my copy. It’s in the collection I plan on re-reading in retirement.  I hope I still love it as much as I did five years ago.

2 thoughts on “A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

  1. I love, love, loved this book, too – and now I’m tearing myself to pieces wondering who I lent my copy to. Gah!

    Great review, makes me want to reread (though I seldom do).

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