We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist's couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend.
We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city's demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale.
We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life--divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house--and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang--who thrived and who faltered--and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
"A Visit from the Goon Squad" is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both--and escape the merciless progress of time--in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 46.
- Review Date: 2010-03-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Readers will be pleased to discover that the star-crossed marriage of lucid prose and expertly deployed postmodern switcheroos that helped shoot Egan to the top of the genre-bending new school is alive in well in this graceful yet wild novel. We begin in contemporaryish New York with kleptomaniac Sasha and her boss, rising music producer Bennie Salazar, before flashing back, with Bennie, to the glory days of Bay Area punk rock, and eventually forward, with Sasha, to a settled life. By then, Egan has accrued tertiary characters, like Scotty Hausmann, Bennie's one-time bandmate who all but dropped out of society, and Alex, who goes on a date with Sasha and later witnesses the future of the music industry. Egan's overarching concerns are about how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate and turn. Or as one character asks, “How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about?” Egan answers the question elegantly, though not straight on, as this powerful novel chronicles how and why we change, even as the song stays the same. (June)
A dazzling spin through time
Fans riding high from Jennifer Egan’s critically acclaimed The Keep have much to look forward to in her new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which turns away from the neo-gothic and mind-bending while retaining the unexpected humor and postmodern breadth of her earlier work.
At the book’s start, we drop in on the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging record executive, and Sasha, his aimless, kleptomaniac assistant. Sasha goes on a mediocre online date, while Bennie brings his nine-year-old son to see a band he has signed but knows he can’t break out. Then the narrative takes an unexpected turn, making great leaps in time and location to show us not only how these characters got to be the way they are (and flashing forward to what they will ultimately become), but the ways in which the ancillary players in their lives have touched and connected them. We meet Scotty, Bennie’s former bandmate from the Bay Area punk scene; Lou, the group’s self-destructive mentor who takes his children and young girlfriend on a trip to Africa; Rob, Sasha’s suicidal college friend who struggles with his own identity in the Internet’s early days; and Alex, Sasha’s date from the opening chapter, who goes on to see a world in which technology and music intertwine in surprising, though not implausible ways.
Chapters jump from first to third person, from heavily footnoted magazine articles to PowerPoint presentations, yet Egan’s scope remains simultaneously manic and highly controlled. Indeed, one gets the sense that she knows so much about her characters’ lives that she had the luxury of curating only the choicest moments for our reading pleasure, the result of which is a series of pastiches that deftly and lyrically illustrates the ways people and culture change, yet stay remarkably the same.