Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

It's rare for me that a book lives up to its hype.

I was concerned after the first few chapters which seemed more like short stories just barely connected by peripheral characters. They were very well-written and compelling on their own, but I was disappointed by the lack of a single story. However, as I read on, I realized the way each story added to the one before it, creating a broader picture.

The format of the book makes me think of a prism: each story is a facet of the prism. An inconsequential character from the first chapter is the central character a few chapters later, proving that no one is inconsequential; everyone has their own story to tell. Also, a character who seems utterly lost in an early chapter will have figured things out in a later chapter. And, on the flip side, a character who has a simple, happy childhood will end up committing suicide.  As the stories weave back and forth in time and geography, we see the full spectrum of human experience. (Though, perhaps, a uniquely American one.)

On a writerly note: for those interested in this sort of thing, AVFTGS is a great study in point of view. Chapters are written in third person, first person, omniscient, and even the rarely seen second person. If you're trying to figure out the differences and how to successfully pull off each one, I'd recommend this book.

But, then, I recommend this book anyway.


  1. I loved AVFTGS, but I recently finished a book that I think did a better job with the experimental style that Egan used (and I think it may have even inspired her story). It's called The Savage Detectives by the late Robert Bolano, and it's stunning. It's a beast -- 650 pages -- and there are times I worried that the writer had better be going somewhere with all the time I put into it. I was paid off with brilliant storytelling and stunning writing. His follow-up is the 900 page "2666" that I'm getting ready to start, but I needed a break before I make another huge commitment like I did with "Savage Detectives."