CBR-V Review #7: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Why I Read It: Because I was basically the last person in the world to do so, and it had killer reviews.

My Rating: 4 stars

Summary: You can’t really summarize this book. It’s essentially a series of loosely-connected short stories with some of the same recurring characters at different points in their lives, dealing with the chaos and pain of life in contemporary America.

My Review: Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is indisputably unique and in many ways incredibly brilliant; I have a feeling that this book will be used in literary theory classes in the future. It’s almost post-modern and definitely post-structuralist, which is normally a recipe for disaster for me. I usually can’t stand this type of book, and on paper, I think this is one that I would hate. It’s disjointed, there’s no cohesive resolution, Egan plays around with form and structure in weird ways, and it’s all about the hopelessness and emptiness of our world today. But it really worked for me, and I ended up liking it a lot.

I think my biggest problem with the book is that it’s so uneven. Some of the stories were truly powerful and jarring and I felt like I was responding to them in the ways that Egan wanted me to. But others really fell flat and either didn’t make much sense or just felt kind of pointless. I really appreciated what Egan was trying to do with structure and form throughout, though, and so on a English-major-literary-nerd level it was interesting to watch it unfold. I was especially moved by the infamous PowerPoint story (yes, she tells an entire story via PowerPoint), which I was surprised by, because I’d been dreading it.

I didn’t really notice the flaws of the book while I was reading it–I couldn’t put it down. I’d actually expected it to be difficult to read but I ended up finishing it in one whole afternoon. When I’d had time to digest it, though, I realized that I had some problems with it. One of my friends on Goodreads wrote a review of it saying that they’d wished they’d read it before they read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and I totally agree. I was mentally comparing the two books while I was reading, and I think Franzen was overall more successful. His book certainly stuck with me more–it was one of the best books I’ve ever read and it’s one of the rare books I can simply think back to and still feel emotionally affected (I originally compared reading it to a punch in the gut–it takes a lot out of you, and that feeling has stuck with me).

Should You Read It? Absolutely. Despite it’s issues with unevenness, it’s one of the most creative and innovative works of fiction I’ve ever read, and I think it’s opened some doors and will be a stepping-stone for Egan and a lot of other authors to do some really cool and intriguing things with fiction in years to come.

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