“Sure everything is ending, but not yet.”
A Visit from the Goon Squad is an intricate, complicated and wondrous collection of moments in the lives of various characters. The story starts by introducing us to Sasha, who we visit repeatedly throughout her life in the rest of the book. Sasha is a beautiful, fiery, creative, forceful girl who also happens to be a kleptomaniac. “…the jolt of surprise and delight he’d felt when the sun finally dropped into the center of her window and was captured inside her circle of wire. Now he turned to her, grinning. Her hair and face were aflame with orange light. “See,” Sasha muttered, eyeing the sun. “Its mine.”
The second chapter introduces us to Bennie, the other main character. And by ‘main character’ I mean that most of the book has to do with Bennie and Sasha in a general way. The stories are about people they’ve met, interacted with or knew at one point in their lives. The connections between all the people in this book are mostly tenuous and insignificant. They don’t effect each other, but they inhabit the same world.
Bennie loves music, will grow up to be a producer and will be Sasha’s boss in one of the many snapshots we see of her life. We meet Bennie in his band, through Rhea who narrates this second piece. It is in her eyes that we first see him, a young, nice boy whom she loves but cannot bring herself to tell. “Listening, I think, You will never know how much I understand you.”
This collection of pieces is quite a feat to absorb. It is extremely interesting, with beautiful moments and powerful writing. After I read all the stories, I actually had to work back through the book in my head to connect them all and see all the various ways they intertwined.
As we delve into the book, we meet so many individuals. Lou, a music producer who becomes Bennie’s mentor. Scotty, a musician in Bennie’s band, who marries a girl Bennie once loved. Stephanie, Bennie’s wife. Kitty Jackson, a washed up movie star and La Doll, her agent in public relations who Bennie’s wife Stephanie, works for. Rob, a friend of Drew, who is dating Sasha in college and later marries her. We watch as time devours them whole. Their lives rise in success, shatter in heartbreak, fade into failure and even, just once, become a resurrection of all their dreams.
“The velvety night in his ears. And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.”
A Visit from the Goon Squad plays with pop culture and the effect of time on a collection of people, all within a range of about 40 years, leaping from the future to the past to show us different perspectives. The format of the chapters range from first person narratives to a powerpoint presentation and a journalistic column. Although I don’t usually like odd formats (especially when they’re introduced late in the book) I feel it works well for Egan because she does it with an ease and intelligence that fits the world she is unfolding for us.
In Egan’s complex creation we see how relentless time, regret and love can be. We experience the darkness of desperation, the nostalgia of young infatuation and the late disappointment of having wasted away a life into cheap sexual encounters and drugs. We feel everything with these characters and we experience it all with an intensity that shows Egan’s ability to write emotions that feel deeper and stronger than most.
It is a great relief that as the book closes, we are left with the faintest glimmer of hope for everyone we’ve met. Even the ones who seem so hopelessly lost and left behind, may somehow, just maybe, have more time.
“I don’t know what happened to me”
Bennie glanced at him, a middle aged man with chaotic silver hair and thoughtful eyes. “You grew up alex,” he said “just like the rest of us.”