When this book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction some two years ago, many people from the book club have been raving about how this Jennifer Egan masterpiece is absolutely brilliant and different and really worth the award. I had wanted to join in on the bandwagon then but time was a goon, and it was only now — two years after — that I finally read it.
Time is a goon. This is the main theme of the story, and the goon squad referred to in the title is time. The book starts with the story of Sasha, a kleptomaniac personal assistant, and from this first chapter, other characters emerge and the reader is introduced to each of their lives. The characters are connected to each other in various ways and we see their lives intertwine with the events that spans from the past to the future. There is Bennie Salazar, Sasha’s boss. And then there’s La Doll, Bennie’s ex-wife’s boss. Lulu, La Doll’s daughter, though introduced peripherally, actually emerges as an important character towards the end of the book. And then there are the band members from Bennie’s youth (Scotty, Rhea, Alice, and Jocelyn), the group of people whom Bennie goes to Africa with, and a plethora of other characters whose names now completely evade me.
The number of characters actually confuse me and it does not help that the time frame is not presented in a chronological order. I have read other books that jumps from one time frame to another but which I did not get confused. In A Visit From The Goon Squad, however, I felt that my mind is thrown into a jumble of characters, events, and time. Or maybe, I did not concentrate hard enough?
Although Sasha and Bennie’s characters may be considered as the jumping point for all the other characters, I find La Doll’s character and story the most fascinating. I like how time has played with her life and her ideals and how her character finds a certain resolution for all the conflicts she’s been through. A close second is Sasha’s character, and although she stars in the first chapter with Allan as her date, it is interesting to note that the last chapter concluded with Allan in it. All along I thought Allan is just an unnecessary character.
Music plays a central theme in the story. But the music mentioned are all foreign to me which makes me feel all the more distant from the book. What redeems this book for me was the idea of time playing with each of the characters. It made me think how we really cannot change what happens to us and that regret is the saddest thing that could ever happen. Often we hear our selves say, Where has time gone? Or, How time flies! Because indeed, sometimes how much we plan our lives for the future, time intervenes and before we know it, we are at almost at the end of our lives and we find ourselves longing for all the good times of the past.
A Visit From The Goon Squad is a challenge to read. The language is straightforward, but I think the myriad of characters did not quite work well to my taste. The shifting perspectives in each of the chapters doubled my confusion although in hindsight I must say that the author is very commendable in trying to put up a unique kind of storytelling. For instance, there is a chapter that used the pronoun you, although the narrator actually talks about himself. Then there is a chapter that is presented as a newspaper report. And then there is the much talked about chapter of a power-point presentation which I find much easier to understand than the narratives. I agree that these are all novel ideas– but I don’t see the point of too much raving about them. The work is creative and original, yes, but it’s not amazing in my opinion. In fact, I can’t help but think that the author has made her book a bit gimmicky — which gimmick worked well to the author’s advantage in bagging the Pulitzer.
After all the waiting and the delayed gratification, I expected to like this book. I really did. But I guess there are just books that speak to you and there are those which seem distant. A Visit From The Goon Squadis not a bad book — in fact I strongly believe that there is no bad book. It is all a matter of taste, and for me, this book is not just my cup of tea.
My copy: paperback from Booksale (Php 20.00)