Posted by: Corri van de Stege | April 26, 2011

How can I do justice to Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’?

In my head I’ve written a review of Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit from the Goon Squad about ten times over – only I haven’t put it to paper or stored it on my laptop.    Once I sit  behind the keyboard and think of how I should begin my review my brain turns blank.  How do you tell the world that this is a fantastic book?  Saying it like that, it just sounds so lame, so unexciting.  Well, here it goes anyway: this is a great book, it is the kind of writing that I wish I could master – this is how I want to write my novel and because I cannot I haven’t finished it, and probably never will.  The title alone is a treasure: the goon squad – where do you get the idea?  But then, it could not be anything else:

Bennie and his wife Stephanie have moved to Crandale, an upmarket neighborhood and it takes them a year before they are even invited to a party.  Stephanie works part-time, doing PR for Bosco, the guitarist of a once famous rock band, the Conduits.  Bosco wants to make a comeback:

‘I want interviews, features, you name it, Bosco went on.  ‘Fill up my life with that shit.  Let’s document every fucking humiliation.  This is reality, right?  You don’t look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you’ve had half your gut removed.  Time’s a goon, right? Isn’t that the expression?’

Jules had drifted over from across the room.  ‘I’ve never heard that,’ he said.  ‘Time is a goon?’

‘Would you disagree?’ Bosco said, a little challengingly.

There was a pause.  ‘No,’ Jules said.    (p.127)

Time inflicts all sort of things, the book moves from one (short) chapter to another, across time, moves from Bennie to Sasha and people who are linked to them at one time or another.  There’s Bennie the producer, with memories he should not share with his young son Chris.  There’s Sasha, his one time assistant, who at one point is a kleptomaniac and has a one night stand boyfriend Alex who turns up again at the very end of the book, wanting to work for Bennie and in between there’s Stephanie, Bennie’s wife, who divorces him, and then of course old school friends from as far back as 1979, Rhea, Scotty, Alice, and Jocelyn.  Rhea’s waiting for Bennie, but Bennie wants Alice, who wants Scotty, who’s wanting Jocelyn.  Jocelyn although she loves Scotty is not in love with him and follows Lou, who is 43 and the father of six children.  Time wreaks havoc on all of them:

What he needed was to find fifty more people like him, who had stopped hearing themselves without realising it.’ (p.313)

Not only do the chapters move across time, between the 70s and 2000 and beyond,  they also move from one voice to another, with even a chapter in which Robby relates his story in the second person, you, and this is almost effortlessly pulled off.   The chapters are almost individual stories, only the protagonist in the story somehow or other links back to either Bennie or Sasha ending almost naturally with the last chapter where Alex tries to remember who this girl was and Bennie says that she ones used to work for him.  

Bennie and Alex have arranged for Scotty to do a comeback and Alex realises that the Scotty they all knew as the famous rock musician does not longer exist.  Bennie comes in and tells Scotty that he can do it:

Time’s a goon, right?  You gonna let that goon push you around?’

That’s a question we all need to answer, in the end, don’t we?  You could do much worse than rush to the bookshop and get this book.  It’ll provide you no end of pleasure while you mull over your own goon squad and where they have left you.


  1. Well said! I wanted to write about my experience with A Visit From the Goon Squad when I finished reading it a few months ago, but then never quite figured out how to express my love and adoration because it’s just so amazing. Did you hear the book just won the Pulitzer?

  2. Laura – yes of course I should have mentioned that, the Pulitzer Prize! Thank you for reminding me. In fact, the book had a lot of raving reviews I seem to remember but I just wanted to add my own feeling of helplessness and you have just confirmed this, that the book is so amazing! Thank you.

    • Thank you for posting the review! I find myself thinking about A Visit From the Goon Squad often, especially the way it ends and how she was able to tell so many stories while keeping us engaged through the point-of-view shifts. I’m so glad you pointed out the second-person section. I had forgotten about that bit of artistry!

  3. What a great review that made me need to read this book!! I read The Keep, which was very strange…. Have you read it? I’ve not read anything else by Eagan, but will be rectifying that shortly.

  4. qugrainne – No I haven’t read The Keep: the local bookshop did not store it when I looked yesterday. I’ll order it on line. Enjoy the Goonsquad.

  5. […] How can I do justice to Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’? ( […]

  6. Sounds interesting although a book I’ve never heard of. I shall seek this one out. The Pullitzer prize sometimes seems a bit quirky to British eyes, but its a good indication.

  7. It’s a great read Tom – well worth a try!

  8. […] Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad […]

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