Jennifer Egan’s new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, reads like a series of short stories rather than one continuous narrative. She expertly holds it all together by threading individual characters through. It ends up reading as sort of a Kevin Bacon, six degrees of separation meets Jonathan Lethem rock anthem meets Zadie Smith contemplation of identity and resurrection. Yeah, it’s pretty damn good.
I first read Egan’s novelistic work (she’s also a writer for the New York Times Sunday Magazine), last summer, and was taken by the boldness she brings to exploring themes typically associated with women—beauty, friendship, identity, celebrity. She adheres to some of the best of writing conventions—good characters, swiftly-moving plot—but throws in all these wacky, ambitious twists and turns (both in terms of content and form). A Visit from the Goon Squad even includes a chapter in power point presentation form, I kid you not.
Egan is a total cynic, and at the same time, acutely aware of the humanity to be found in the smallest of acts between friends and lovers, the ways in which we are fragile, the ways in which love frightens us. Here’s just a taste:
Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt; many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms, and soft, generous ass. Then he’d folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied.