“I don’t want to fade away, I want to flame away—I want my death to be an attraction, a spectacle, a mystery. A work of art.”
Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is (in)famous for its penultimate chapter, which is written as a PowerPoint presentation. While polarizing among reviewers, this is actually my favorite chapter in the book. I find it amazing how Jennifer Egan could capture such a wide range of emotions in a PowerPoint presentation, which centers on the intra-family dynamics of one of the main characters, Sasha.
Sasha’s son, Lincoln, is neurodivergent and obsessed with slight pauses in rock music, such as in “Young Americans” by David Bowie or “Supervixen” by Garbage. Lincoln is unable to articulate his emotions directly, but he does so through his obsession with pauses in his favorite songs. This obsession leads to my favorite quote of the novel, as Lincoln explains why he is so enamored with pauses:
“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”
This quote is also a metaphor for the lives of our two main characters, Sasha, and her record company boss, Bennie, who is also a former punk rocker. Rock music lionizes the young, and the relationship of the characters to the music business only exaggerates their inevitable aging. This brings me to my second-favorite quote for the book:
“Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.”
A Visit from the Goon Squad is structured as a series of short stories that bounce around in time and perspective, some focusing on Sasha and Bennie and others providing a voice to several different side characters. The stories featuring Sasha and Bennie were by far my favorites. They are both such compelling characters in their good-hearted brokenness.
The opening chapter tells the story of Sasha’s kleptomania, and how she couldn’t stop herself from stealing a wallet from a public restroom while on a date. The second story tells of Bennie’s obsession with consuming gold flakes in his beverages as a very expensive panacea for all his troubles.
The stories that feature the side characters are less compelling; I would have preferred spending more time with Sasha and Bennie. Also, the stories kept shifting among first-, second-, and third-person narration for no apparent reason other than for Jennifer Egan to flex her narrative muscles.
Overall, I really enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad but would have preferred a more consistent focus on the main characters.