Cannonball Read III: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It says so on the cover. I will not tell you whether or not that heightened or lowered my expectations of the contents. I will, however, tell you that I don’t believe I’ve ever read a Pulitzer Prize winning book, so this one felt special to me, and I was glad that I read it. (Okay, a quick look at the list shows that I am wrong and have read the following Pulitzer winners: The Old Man and the Sea, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Beloved, The Shipping News, Interpreter of Maladies, and Middlesex… phew!)
Jennifer Egan, will the time come that I am ever not seduced by your voluptous prose? The Keep was so magical, Look at Me, less so, but I held out hope and ordered a third book from you from the library, despite you batting a soild .500 in my personal “likes” department. This book has music pulsing through it as the undercurrent, and I felt attached to it as the past few books I’ve been reading have all had music in them somehow. The back of the book leads you to believe the story will revolve around Sasha, a “troubled” young girl with a penchant for pickpocketing, and her boss Bennie, head honcho at a record label. In fact, the book has many layers, following many story lines, that pick up off one another in unexpected and startling ways. There are so many plots and subplots, it made my head hurt, and more than once I had to flip back and forth between the chapters to remember how everyone was connected, but ultimately this multi-faceted approach lended credibility to the story in that it seemed more like real life.
Music held it together, all stories coalescing around a band, or a song, or a sound, or a music producer. Technology, growing up in a digital world, connectivity, etc. was the other bookend. I can pinpoint the part of the novel when Bennie begins to go into an inner monologue where Egan’s voice, which had annoyed me so much in her last novel, really shone through, but I trudged right along through and I’m glad I did. I’m excited that I can recognize her voice, pick out exactly where the novel goes from being just any old novel to her novel. It means I’ve been reading too much.
In terms of content, the book was very good and layered nicely. The interconnectivity of people was stretched pretty thin, but it worked for what it was. All of the characters had believable personalities, and each chapter felt more like it’s own encapsulated short story, so that helped with making this a short read. The first and last chapters dealt with Sasha and Bennie, which gave the novel the most cohesive feeling it had the entire time; their story starting in supposedly modern times and ending only a dozen or so years in the future, which made it all seem possible and creepier all at once. Unlike Super Sad True Love Story, which I will not be reviewing here, I get more unnerved by things that are supposed to happen in my near future, my current lifetime, as opposed to things that are set 50 or 100 years in the future. Coming of age in this digital time has been fascinating, but knowing that kids today won’t know a world without Google or Facebook makes me really sad. I suppose our grandparents probably say the same about computers or other modern coveniences such as the microwave… but I digress.
This book comes recommended from me, not because it’s a Pulitzer, but because it’s damn good. If you like music and you like to think about our wired world, this one’s for you. Good luck :)
For more of Amy’s reviews, check out her Cannonball Read III blog.
This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.
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