I recently came across Buzzfeed’s ’65 Books You Need to Read in Your 20s’ and as an early 20 something, I thought this would be a good thing to work through. I’d read four of the books listed and decided to make that five, and my fifth came in the form of Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’.
It’s not secret I like rock ‘n’ roll, so this was easy to fall into at first. I have issues with fictional rock ‘n’ roll – I’m used to it being all brimming with clichés and idealistic, everyone gets their big break and inevitably lives their dreams. I’m also used to this genre having shocking fake band names. Where Egan drew from classic examples as influences to her fictional bands, I enjoyed, when she spoke about the Flaming Dildos I couldn’t quite decide whether this fell into the good or bad fictional band names. The jury’s still out.
Plus, I couldn’t shake La Doll being a mesh of the LA Guns and New York Dolls. If I’m wrong, don’t correct me, because I like this being the source of the character’s PR name.
The book was interesting. Though Sasha and Bennie are the two main characters, it’s difficult to pinpoint the narrative to either of them. It’s actually difficult to pinpoint the narrative to one story. It feels more like a mesh of short stories from an interlinked web of failures, from music and PR to journalism and movie stars.
And that’s what I liked – that interlinked failure. For once it’s not idealistic, in fact it’s harshly realistic. Countless people get big breaks and crash and burn and I actually liked the idea that this was a social network of people who had failed dreams, because that’s far more interesting to read about than success after success.
But the issue with this web is that it’s not immediately obvious who you’re dealing with from chapter to chapter, and what their relationship is to other people. It clicks after a while though, in most cases.
What I didn’t like, however, was the ridiculous text talk that reared its head towards the end. I have never liked writers including ridiculous text talk as part of a conversation, and that was a real pain. I also found the change in POV styles a bit jarring. Game of Thrones is a good example of changing the character whose point of view the reader deals with, but keeping the style – within reason – the same. Egan dabbles with first person, third person, an abstract approach to first person, where they appear to be addressing the reader but talking about themselves. Then there was a chapter presented in a Powerpoint – complete waste of time.
And that really took away from it. When you look at the mass of styles it feels like Egan was trying way too hard to make the book stand out in its styling rather than its story, and that’s probably why it won the Pulitzer Prize but becomes disengaging.
There isn’t an actual plot here that I could find, and I think I fell into the book because of the characters and links to my own interests. I feel like I should rate it three stars because I can pick so many flaws that make it middle of the road, but I really did enjoy getting into certain characters and their stories. Disappointing, I guess, but there was something about it I can’t quite put my finger on.