You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a novel by Jennifer Egan written in a format of several linked stories. The stories span several decades from the early 1980's to the 2020's and include many different characters in a sort of chain. The overarching theme is that of progression, transition, or the slow metamorphosis of life.

The first story is about Sasha, a kleptomaniac who works for a music producer Bennie Salazar. Then we see Bennie as a younger man entering the music business. We see Bennie's mentor Lou womanizing with a younger crowd.

Many of the chapters show a relationship between the older and younger generation. There's Lou and his younger retinue, Bennie and his son. Dolly is a PR agent who served time for terrible accident at a party at her house, so can only get a publicity job for a murderous third world dictator. She takes her daughter to the general's country along with a young actress who has been in some trouble. Unfortunately the actress proves to be a bit too unpredictable and gets them all into trouble. There is a definite contrast between the wildness of the young actress and the older woman who is just trying to provide for her daughter, while at the same time keeping the truth from her.

Then there is the young Sasha who disappears and spends months in Milan, and her uncle who is sent to look for her. Both are on a sort of sabbatical, a vacation from life. The uncle spends his time looking at art and finds Sasha only by accident. She is living in a small room and picking pockets for a living. Neither can tell the other what they are doing in Milan. A section towards the end is created by Sasha's daughter, explicating their family by a Powerpoint presentation. This uses form to enhance the theme, showing how far behind the parents are from the children.

I found the novel interesting, but I am not sure that all the pieces add up well. Part of the problem may be that I listened to the audiobook, and some parts did not translate well. For example, the Powerpoint section was morphed into an audio presentation, which still worked but lacked the effects of the visual graphs. Some audiobooks just translate better than others. I would definitely recommend reading a text version instead.

Part of my problem was that we never got enough about any characters to know them well enough. The exceptions are Bennie and Sasha, who we see from many others. Also the lack of a central plot is a bit of a stumbling block, though usually I am open to different narrative styles. Upon reflection, it does have a lot to say about aging and the difference between youth and maturity. B

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