Sunday, March 31, 2013

a visit from the goon squad - jennifer egan

This took a while to get into - the first couple of chapters were a put-off due to the pretentiousness of the first few characters that we are introduced to. After I picked it back up again (6 months later) the novel finally gripped me. 

Each character in the novel has a central story set in a certain time, some in first person narrative, some just focusing more heavily on the perspectives of certain characters, in their story another character will play a secondary role, and then in later chapters this secondary character will become the focus of their own narrative set in a different time - ranging from the 1970s well into the future - where we discover more about them, and in turn the primary characters of the earlier chapters are featured as secondary characters in these character's first person narrative, giving us more information from another perspective about them. The novel is essentially about time (portrayed as a goon) and how oblivious people are to the little cracks in their relationships with other people and how those cracks will sometimes deepen so that one will no longer recognize the self that was once in that relationship. It was almost shocking when the future life of a character that we've been following alongside is suddenly laid out for us in full, and the dramatic irony is almost heart-breaking in some cases. As the novel proceeds we find out more clues pointing to the reasons behind the bleak denouements of some of the characters' stories - and the stories all seem to echo each other: time brings people to a certain cynicism, comically defined by Lulu as Ethical Ambivalence, that allows them to survive or drives them to death. A severe critique of the media, the music industry, and the role played by technology in our lives runs through the novel - this functions in tandem with the loss of innocence from childhood to adulthood for each of the characters in the novel - as the world seems to have aged into something too cynical to take seriously (actually a lot of the themes related to technology were reminiscent of the Charlie Brooker "Black Mirror" series) 

The highlights of the book for me were the closet gay football player with a crush on his best friend's boyfriend, Dolly's (LaDoll) job acting as a public relations manager for a middle eastern dictator (and perpetrator of genocide), Jules's sexual attack on a blockbuster film actress, Rolph's relationship with his dad's girlfriend on safari, Ted Hollander trying (not very hard) to find his niece in Naples, as well as the difficulties in Drew's relationship with his son, despite the best of intentions, through the eyes of Alison, his daughter, and Alex and his friends' recommendations being bought on social media in an attempt to create stardom from nothing with 21st Century marketing techniques based reportedly on particle physics.

Definitely worth the trawl through the first few chapters (which I had to reread at the end when they became more interesting for the details they provided about later characters).