Title of the book: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Genres: Literary fiction*, character study
*While this book is definitely literary fiction (it won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Literature), I would hesitate to recommend it to readers younger than high-school age.
Short summary of the story: The story of Sasha, a twenty-something kleptomaniac working for a declining music producer, is the starting point for Egan's journey through the various lives and experiences of her characters in A Visit from the Goon Squad. Rather than singling out a specific protagonist, the characters introduce one another in passing, and readers are then given a more intimate look at the lives of someone who was an acquaintance in the previous chapter. Through these interconnected vignettes, Egan examines how people perceive the process of growing up and growing old, and questions how much autonomy we have in shaping our lives.
- A diverse cast. Egan's characters are spread across various time periods (from about the 60s onwards) with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. We see some of the same characters at different ages, and see how their identities are challenged and reformed over the course of their lives. With others, we only have a brief glimpse that may present a similar time period in a very different way than how their friend described in previously. For me, the most interesting was seeing how characters who are only connected by the slimmest threads still echo in one another's lives.
- Multiple points of entry. What held me after I'd finished Goon Squad was how much of my younger self and current self I could see spread through different characters, and that made me a lot more thoughtful and patient with older characters that I was tempted to dismiss. My impression is that people from across different generations would be able to find at least one character or interaction that was startlingly familiar.
- Uneven pacing. I had to read this book in spurts, because I would love some chapters, and then others would drag for me if I couldn't dig into the character - or if I just didn't like them. It was always fun to reverse-engineer who a character was and where they fit in the web, but sometimes that was the only highlight.