I read Jennifer Egan's strange and scattered novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad before it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It's no surprise it's receiving accolades, after all it was on many of the "best books of 2010" lists. And the book is nothing if not literary. But with literary-ness comes the struggle of reading a serious work of fiction. (And by serious I mean difficult, because the book boasts a brilliant sense of humor.)
The novel opens with Sasha, a kleptomaniac in the process of stealing a purse from a New York City bathroom. Almost every review I've read of the book calls out this chapter. And there's a reason. It's a brilliant, witty, and strange start to an even stranger book.
With each chapter written from a different character's perspective, with a different voice, and at a different time in the decades-long story, it's difficult to know what's really going on. I longed for a big pullout poster that would help me make sense of all the characters and time periods and interelationships. The complex nature of the novel makes for a difficult read. This is a book that should be read with a good english professor who's taught the novel hundreds of times so she could help me navigate the intricacies.
However, even though A Visit from the Goon Squad is difficult, the book offers rewards to the dedicated reader. Individual chapters are jewels that sparkle with wit and humor. Take the story of Dolly, a washed-up PR specialist who fell from celebrity grace when she hosted a star-studded party that ended with hot oil falling from above and disfiguring guests. Now she tries to ensure her daughter Lulu has the best education possible by taking the only good-paying job she can get; the PR person for a rutheless dictator.
Lulu returns at the end of the book in the last chapter set sometime in the near future when helicopters roam the sky to ensure security and where pop music is directed at children who are known as "pointers" thanks to their constant exposure to touch-screen technology. There's even a social media lesson to be learned from the future with the use of paid "parrots" to create buzz around concerts.
One of the biggest surprises in the book is a chapter served up as the journal of a young girl and presented as a PowerPoint presention. I started this chapter rolling my eyes at the gimmicky idea. I ended the chapter charmed by the young girl and her ability to distill life into susinct, meaningful observations.
A Visit from the Goon Squad may not be the best book for a casual weekend read at the beach. But if you're looking for a modern, literary challenge, it's worth the time and effort.