Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad is a surprisingly good novel that deserves to be widely read. I was a bit skeptical at first, I don't really know why, perhaps because I'd read somewhere that one chapter is told in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, perhaps because the title didn't really appeal to me, but the first chapters quickly won me over. The book received rave reviews when it was published in the US last year and has gone on to win the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the The National Book Critics Circle award.
A Visit from the Goon Squad tells the interconnected stories of several characters at different points in time. Subordinate characters in one chapter become principal characters in the next. Each chapter is written in a distinct style. One chapter takes the form of a hilarious David Foster Wallace parody. Somewhat disconcertingly this chapter recounts an attempted rape ("one hand covering Kitty's mouth and doing its best to anchor her rather spirited head, the other fumbling with my zipper, which I'm having some trouble depressing, possibly because of the writhing motions of my subject beneath me.") The Powerpoint presentation, which at first I was a bit skeptical of, is in fact one of the novel's most moving chapters and one in which form and content add to each other.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a delight to read. Throughout the novel Egan employs a simple literary device, that of the flash forward, to great effect. In a few sentences we learn how a person's life will unfold, about his or her fortunes and misfortunes and about all that is yet to materialize. These passages and indeed the novel as a whole put me in a reflective mood. What does the future hold in store? And how much of it is influenced by our own actions and inactions?
The title refers to a remark by one of the characters: "Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?" A Visit from the Goon Squad reminds us how we are all pushed around by time. This may not be the most original observation, but it is told with affection.