Despite the numerous critical accolades, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad didn’t prove to be a smash hit for the Brown Baggers. Only a few readers (full disclosure: myself included!) enjoyed the layered narrative that garnered Egan both the National Book Circle Critics Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The main complain the Brown Baggers had was the confusing nature of the narrative. Told in a string of overlapping stories at different points in time, it was hard to keep track of different characters. In our introductory remarks about the novel, we noted that many of the stories were published earlier in magazines as standalone works. Many readers felt that if they had approached the book as a collection of short stories, with the overlaps as coincidental rather than integral, it would have been easier to read. Others pointed out that the comprehension should have ultimately been the ultimate responsibility of the author.
The Brown Baggers also discussed how these brief anecdotes were similar to the nature of memory. Certain episodes or people from our past might stick out clearly, while other details fade with time. We talked abouthow this relates to the title and the discussion of time being a “goon.”
Readers who disliked the book as a whole still found bright spots to enjoy, such as the sly humor employed throughout. The section with the General stood out in particular. We noted that this and other sections gave a witty and probably truthful insight into the entertainment business and its publicity machine. Some readers noticed one unique construct specifically. Certain characters would have their future summed up quickly at the end of a chapter– what they would go on to do, or even how their lives might end. In some way, this provided closure by making it clear the reader would probably never see these characters again. Judging by the reactions to this book as a whole, perhaps these instances were noted with a sigh of relief.
Join the Brown Baggers on May 21 at noon to discuss The Reader by Bernard Schlink.
This online character map helps explain relationships and connections.
Listen to some of the iconic rock songs mentioned in the book with this YouTube playlist.
Visit the author’s official website or the publisher’s website for discussion questions and background information.
Want more? Check out Egan’s other books in the JMRL catalog, or try one of our suggested readalikes below:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
NW by Zadie Smith
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
In hindsight I’m surprised that no one mentioned JD Salinger. His short stories and novels contain characters that recur in a non-sequential manner and concern their complex relationships over a long period of time.