my tragic right hip

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July 28th, 2011

#57 – A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Good Squad coverWhat a rare book Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Good Squad turned out to be for me — one utterly and completely deserving of its rather exuberant praise and awards. This book swept me away from start to finish and the quirks that I would normally complain about (a la the entire chapter by the young Alison Blake) charmed me to no end because the writing is just that good. It’s more of a series of linked stories, Venn Diagrams of people’s lives as they interact, slip away, and then come into contact with someone else who can complete the tale rather than a traditional novel. The format feels innovative and new — parts of the book are told out of chronological order, some characters flicker in and out like fireflies, but Egan masterfully holds it all together with deft strokes and impressive sentences. I could not put this novel down.

Here’s the reading scenario: my son has Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. Yes, it’s as awful as it sounds. We spend a miserable evening at the emergency room in Peterborough for them to tell us that it’s a “virus.” He ran a fever of 104. He turned the colour of a lobster. My heart would not stop racing. And we spent a miserable night in the middle of a heat wave with him sobbing and trying to gain control over his fever — Egan’s novel was the only thing that kept me sane that night. I held him and read it. I rocked him and read it. He slept on me, and I read it. And when his fever didn’t break the next day and we had to head home to see the family doctor to get a further diagnosis (he had stopped eating and drinking at this point too), when I forgot the book in a panic to get home, I was devastated.

It’s a book, people.

Then, I had to pick up a book off the shelves at home (a terribly disappointing novel by Giles Blunt called No Such Creature (#58) that doesn’t merit a full review: the characters are cliched, the plot predictable, and the whole thing felt Paul Quarrington lite — can you tell I was frustrated with having to leave something as excellent as Good Squad for something so mediocre? Honestly, I don’t know how or why this book was even published, and my goodness, the dialogue was awful). And then, when I got back up north, the book had fallen down behind our bed and so I couldn’t find it. Trust me, I looked and looked, and felt palpable relief when it turned up, cover mushed to hell, but words utterly in tact.

I don’t even know what I could possibly say: did I have a favourite character? Probably, I quite enjoyed both Bennie and Sasha whenever they were in the picture. Lou’s trip to Africa with his kids made me want to take the RRBB there immediately, even though it was a less than stellar vacation when you come right down to it. This novel is such a curious mixture of so many different things that, on their own, don’t normally work: books about rock and roll (cliched or just wrong); books about tortured young girls (so overdone it isn’t even funny); books about quirky smart kids (we are living in a post-Curious Incident world); books that contain a modicum of speculative fiction (Oryx and Crake still holds the belt for this category for me); and books about marriages that breakdown (oh, Oprah, we know you cornered this market years ago with just about every other book club selection in the mid-00s). Yet, when Egan puts it all together, it just works magnificently.

In fact, I can’t think of another novel I’ve enjoyed this much in ages.

4 Responses to “#57 – A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan”

  • Katie says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve read a few of her earlier works, which I liked parts of, but which (on the whole) left me wanting. Egan came (gratis) to speak at my college a number of years ago and was a completely lovely human being, so I’m glad to hear this one is worth checking out. Will put it on my list.

    BTW, I like the new site!

  • B. says:

    I’m reading this now and I’m really enjoying it. Just wanted to point out your mean “goon” squad – not “good.”

  • B. says:

    er… “you” mean. see! typos!

  • Monique says:

    I hope things have settled down! I just finished Goon Squad for the Vancouver Sun book club. I totally agree about the venn diagrams, great description.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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