I really liked A Visit From the Goon Squad. I thought it
was a dense, courageously experimental novel.
That being said, I did not care for the opening chapter—I was
afraid I would be stuck with Sasha for the entire book—I did not find her
likeable and did not find her level of dysfunction compelling. I did have helpful advice from my daughter, Natalie, who had read the book and told me that I should keep track of the characters, that they would crop up later. She gave me that information in
response to my dismayed phone call after the first chapter. I badly wanted to like
the book, I really did not want to be Sasha’s companion for the entire novel,
and I was worried that Alex, who I liked, was never coming back. So my question
to her (and it was, intuitively, the right question for this book) was ‘will
Alex be coming back?’ Her response–everyone comes back in this
book. Just when you least expect it.
I was smitten by Lou’s kids in the chapter where he takes them on
African safari–I loved those kids, loved Egan’s “collage/montage” method in that chapter. It reminded me of the film, Run Lola Run with the photo montages that told a life story in a few seconds with images–I thought she managed to do that with words.
I loved the biting humor. The ruined publicist who is going to save her career by taking on the PR of a third world genocidal dictator—worrying about his cute hats, bringing in an aging starlet to soften his image. The levels of irony go on and on. Too, too funny.
And I thought the ending–not the whole book–was futuristic–dystopian
in the tradition of Huxley, Orwell, Bradbury. Granted it was on a small scale. She envisioned a specific moment, while Huxley et al were mounting a broad social and cultural critique, but you just don’t see folks doing that much these days. And who says your prediction has to be a whole worldview? Didn’t we learn from Virgina Woolf and James Joyce (and so many writers since them) that the microcosm (or the micro-moment) reveals the macrocosm?
So what I liked best were the experimental writing style, the humor, the compelling characters, and the genre play.
One section of my senior AP English students chose to read this in
May and they devoured it—to a person they told me they enjoyed it. Feedback from book clubs and friends has been more divided. Several English teacher
friends have not found it compelling. Some want more consistency, some want
more character development. I think you have to meet it on its own terms and that it is fresh and energetic and inventive.