A Visit from the Good Squad, by Jennifer Egan

With its weird title (cool cover, though), I would not have picked up Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Visit From the Goon Squad. It was loaned to me so I read it. Oh, yes, I did.

It took a few chapters for me to get caught up in the flow of Egan’s book. Its unusual structure does not make for an easy read. It has no plot to speak of and the story is non-linear, as is the time line. In a kaleidoscopic exposition, each of the thirteen chapters is told from the point of view of a different character. All of these narrators are connected to some of the others, but not all of them. Seemingly ancillary characters reappear in a different chapter, in a different time and/or place, the second appearance central to the book.

Egan makes her readers work. The challenge? She does not tell us at the beginning of each chapter who is narrating, where it’s taking place, or in what time period. The reader has to figure it out. But wait. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Egan is a gifted writer who is capable of dropping early clues and hints. It doesn’t take long to decipher the who/what/where/when.

A Visit from the Goon Squad takes place in its entirety sometime between the late eighties or early nineties and in the near future. (It appears to end two decades after September 11, 2001). The time jumps are initially jarring, but Egan’s genius is in keeping the reader able to process and assimilate the various threads of her narrative.

There are too many characters to detail, and the book’s complexity does not lend itself to brief summary. I will note this: Especially effective is the chapter told exclusively in a forty-plus page PowerPoint presentation. It is created for a school project by twelve-year-old Alison Blake. Alison chose as her topic her dysfunctional family. It is obvious that she uses her assignment to work out issues that plague it. Dysfunctional yes, but also there is much love among Alison, her brother, and her parents. Her observations are heart-wrenching.

There are a few problems with this book. A couple of the chapters seem endless (they’re not), and I found no emotional connection, at all, to many of the characters. They all have major problems, and not all command empathy. Several are flat-out unlikable. Still, these flaws do not detract from the book as a whole. It is brilliant.

Book jacket information suggests that it is a punk rock story, but it is much broader than that.

Recommended for anyone who enjoys a challenging read and something different. Stick with it. It’s worth it.


About connieciampanelli

I am the administrator of this page on behalf of our book club. I retired from La Salle Academy after serving as a secretary in The Admission and School/College Counseling offices to a total of fourteen years. A lifelong avid reader with a B.A. in Liberal Arts, Major in English, I read as I breathe, meaning reading is like the oxygen that keeps me alive.
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