I know that recommending a book that has already won the Pulitzer is kind of wimpy, but DAMN, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad is good. While the book is billed as a novel (and it is), it reads like a collection of short stories about a group of people connected to each other whether they know it or not, and it is this…method (if you like)…that makes this such a powerful book to read.
I loved weaving through these lives, jumping years apart at times, and learning how decisions and actions from the past impacted the future, sometimes for the better but often for the worse. The lives, and the lack of steadiness in each of them, felt real to me. Take Sasha for example. We meet her in the midst of her life, when she is clearly panicking internally, only to go both backwards and forwards in her life in subsequent chapters to see how she got here and how she ends up. Better still, we meet some of the people in her life and see their lives progress as well.
To get a sense of the mechanism Egan uses, think of the movie Slacker, directed by Richard Linklater. In it, he follows a host of people as they proceed through a day in Austin, but he does it sequentially. For example, you see one guy walk along The Drag, and then he stops and talks to a girl. Instead of following the guy again, you follow the girl and see what she does. Pretty soon, she runs into someone else, and after their conversation, you follow the new person. Egan’s chapters are a little like this, except you stand a good chance of switching decades and catching a glimpse of the person you left in the last chapter as they pass by.
Both the story and the writing is excellent. I say that in all seriousness. Some books have a great story to tell but f**k it up with the writing (e.g. Water for Elephants) and others have very little story to tell but the writing is so exquisite that it doesn’t matter (e.g most of early Cormac McCarthy). In Goon Squad, Egan nails both. She left me weaving from the sadness of the story and wobbling from the power of the writing.