Published June 2010 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: both my print and audiobook copies were purchased
Narrator: Roxana Ortega
Interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
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 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.
First, on listening to this one - while Roxane Ortega does an admirable job at the narration of A Visit From The Goon Squad, there are just too many different voices for one person to capture. This is an audiobook that would have greatly benefited by having multiple narrators. Egan has written a complex novel, which employs some very unique techniques, more a series of interconnected short stories than a novel. It's probably best read rather than listened to and I was glad to have a print copy.
A Visit From The Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the 2010 National Book Award, and was on most of the major 2010 "best of" lists. You'll get no argument from me that this is a well-written book. But I'm almost certain that its unique style played a big part in its winning the awards. It's daring and complicated and the award people love to reward daring and complicated. Rightly so in this case. Egan has managed to use multiple points of view, moving the story back and forth in time, all while carrying her story forward more than forty years. In fact, because I was listening to it, instead of reading it, I often found myself lost trying to keep track of how characters were related. I was happy to stumble upon this graphic, which I referred to often once I found it.
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As with any collection of short stories, there were narratives I thought were weaker than others, or at least narratives that didn't draw me in as much and didn't feel like they added as much to the book. But when they were good, they were exceptional with characters I cared deeply and storylines that looked deeply into the abyss. Egan has a lot to say about our society - our priorities, the impact of technology and marketing on our lives, elitism, music, the passage of time - and none of it ends happily-ever-after. But in the final chapter, a dystopian future where babies have purchasing power and the world is just recovering from fifteen years of war, Egan poses the question (through a text), "If thr childrn, thr mst b a Futr, rt?"