Notes on the Goon Squad
A book by Jennifer Egan
This is not really a book review because the book is too complex. This is just some afterthoughts I had upon finishing the novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.
This book is a complete mess. The timeline is out of order. To make matters worse I was only listening to it as an audio book. In the Kindle edition I found some notes that may have been helpful. But the characters are interesting and entertaining and most of the chapters which are more like short stories grab me right away and I find them interesting with the exception of the chapter called for Safari. After I finished the book I went online and looked up all the characters and plots and there is definitely somebody who made a timeline and put everything in order. I just got the sequel book called Candy House from the library because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend money on it after reading some of the negative reviews on Amazon. The point is is that if the government is allowed to loan out copies of books to people and makes the authors lose money then the Internet archive the Wayback Machine should also be allowed to do that.
But I honestly don’t think I would have bought the book anyway because it’s supposed to be not as good as the original book A Visit From the Goon Sqaud. The title is too long and it’s too hard to remember. It’s not actually about Goons in any way. It reminds me of how Led Zeppelin used to title their songs words that were not used in the title and usually didn’t have anything to do with this song as if they picked the titles arbitrarily. The other group that also did this is Morrissey’s group The Smiths. I still don’t actually remember the titles of these Smith’s songs that I know very well. I renamed them all in my mind for example there’s a title I call Joan of Arc. But the actual title is Big Mouth Strikes Again.
I would say Goon Squad is a good starter book if you want to start looking at postmodern fiction which is difficult to figure out and ponder the characters and plots. The first thing you’ll need to do is make a list of each character then you’ll have to write characteristics down of each character as you find them. It feels like more of writing an essay than reading. And also there are a few questions that are left unanswered so instead of giving you a regurgitation of what I thought about the book and the characters I thought I would just go straight to these unanswered questions to see if anyone would like to leave a comment.
It’s absolutely infuriating that you have to wait until there is a chapter about a little girl making notes called Great Rock and Roll Pauses to find out what happened to the character Rob. Listening to this chapter when I was taking a fitness walk was so disorienting because I couldn’t even be sure who the character was. The character is a little girl named Alison. Alison keeps talking about her brother Lincoln. But the whole time I thought it was possible that the narrator was in fact Lincoln who was so disassociated from whom he was that he sometimes referred to himself as I and sometimes referred to himself as Lincoln. Lincoln could have been having an out of body experience. For example “Daddy takes Lincoln upstairs”. This is the little girl talking, but because it’s a postmodern book it could have shifted perspectives inside the same chapter. Once I determined that the character was in fact a little girl I didn’t find her to be a very nice little girl. She’s Sasha’s daughter which I didn’t really know right away either. Sasha is the main character. Alison is a really obnoxious little girl who seems incredibly cruel. She dislikes her own mother so much she wonders why her father even loves her mother at all. Then she decides her entire purpose in life is to be as annoying as possible to everyone around her. It’s strange that the older characters seem to have empathy, but the younger characters particularly the children to be really unlikable for example the cold and sterile Lulu. Another note about this chapter is in the Kindle Edition this entire chapter is shown as a PowerPoint presentation. When I first listened to the book I didn’t know it was supposed to be a PowerPoint presentation. When I looked at the Kindle edition I found that all the words were in little boxes triangles and circles. And it’s absolutely annoying because the text is too small and in the Kindle edition you have to open up each PowerPoint page and look at it magnified in order to read it and it’s much too effort to even bother to do that. This ill conceived idea reminded me of another famous postmodern book called House of Leaves which is actually filled with completely blank pages making the book larger and heavier to carry around than it already is. House of Leaves is not on Kindle so I also got that one from the library. My question is the loose ends are not really tied up in terms of Rob’s death which was caused by drowning after Sasha’s future husband convinced him that it would be safe to go swimming in the East River after staying out all night and indulging in club drugs. So there’s tons of stuff that didn’t even get addressed hopefully this will be remedied in the sequel?
The next question I had is what happens to the actress named Kitty. She is an interesting character who I wanted to know more about but we only see her through other people’s eyes. I don’t think the trauma that she suffered in Central Park was enough to make her have a nervous breakdown and lose her acting career. For some reason she ends up on an island with a dictator who’s very similar to Idi Amin. She is captured by him and held prisoner during a Photo Op because she insults him by mentioning the fact that he committed genocide. It is implied later that she becomes his concubine and lives with him but at the same time she’s also made a movie. How can she be both held prisoner and at the same time be starring in a brand new movie that’s getting rave reviews and actually saving her career? Maybe the point is that the first trauma in Central Park led to the ruination of her career and the second trauma of being held prisoner by an Idi Amin like figure jump starts her career and gets her a plum role in a major motion picture? There has to be a lot more to Kitty’s story than just what we get to read in the novel Goon Squad.
I didn’t mark this post with spoilers because I really didn’t give away very much. But I think most people don’t read the reviews until they finish the book in case there are spoilers. Don’t do a deep dive until you’ve at least finished the book. Goon Squad is not a difficult book to read in terms of the text; it’s just the disoriented presentation of the material that makes it a difficult book that can sometimes be a little bit less than pleasant.
One more thing about the book in order to create tension the author uses desperate situations. In these desperate situations there is sometimes a random actor who does something really outrageous an example of that would be Kitty. When Kitty tells “Idi Amin” that he is a genocidal dictator or when the reporter named Jules attacks Kitty in Central Park. This random actor who is kind of crazy and at the end of their rope does something terrible, but usually things are resolved in a positive way but not always.
Updated: I have looked at the sequel called Candy House and it’s not really a sequel because it mostly brings in new characters with very little relation to the old characters. There was an e-mail exchange between Jules and Lulu and one between Kitty and Lulu. But otherwise I couldn’t recognize anything else. But, I didn’t have the Kindle edition. I was looking at a regular hardback book which was not indexed so I wasn’t able to look through it and find out if there is any mention of Rob. I also would have liked to have known what happens to Sasha and what happens to Alex. So my opinion is Jennifer Egan needs to write another sequel which will actually pick up the loose ends she left in the original book. Although Rob is actually dead the story moves around in time so she could simply go back to the time when Rob was actually alive and write some more story for him which would explain more of why he tried to commit suicide shortly before he drowned in the East River.
But I know how it works. Since she since she failed to write a proper sequel to A Visit from the Goon Squad I don’t think the publishers are gonna be very happy with giving her an advance to do it again. The new characters didn’t grab my attention right away. I didn’t want to spend time learning who they were because I did not have the audio book either. I may have found some parts of it charming if I had spent the money to get the audio book along with the Kindle edition which is what I usually do now. I never buy audiobooks on Audible because they make you join a so-called membership program which is a complete racket. They want you to buy books that don’t even cost as much as the money you’re giving them monthly to be a “member”. The best way to use this system is to decide what books you really do want and then buy the Kindle edition and add the audio edition for an extra fee which is more expensive than just buying the regular audiobook, but it’s not that much more expensive. I just can’t find a book every month that I want to buy and keep. It was so stressful feeling the pressure was on every month that I would have to preview all these books that I didn’t like, and then struggling to try and return those books. Amazon became very belligerent about letting me return them even though I was originally promised that I would be able to return any book that I didn’t like within a year. I never would have even found out about this book because I don’t really read modern fiction. I only read books that are tried tested and true, that other people have read first. I don’t waste my time previewing books that aren’t very good. The reason I found this book was the New Yorker Fiction podcast. The first chapter about a woman named Sasha was featured. I found her story was compelling so I bought the book Goon Squad so I could read the rest of her story.
Updated: This PBS article came to me today 5/26/2023 in my Google feed.
Apparently Candy House is about the character Lulu becoming a secret agent or a spy. But I didn’t catch that in the brief time the library book was in my custody. I’ve already returned it to the library so someone else could read it. I got the large print edition. Since I knew I didn’t want to read it anymore I felt it best to return it. Even though I would be interested in a story about a woman’s secret agent because that is the theme of my fiction story that I wrote in this blog. I hate to actually promote my own stuff but in this case it seems really ironic that Candy House would follow a theme that I actually followed in my own fiction. I wonder if that has some meaning in the overall scheme of things? I decided that my own novel or story is not meant to be published but just meant to be distributed free on this blog. The problem with Lulu is she had the least character and personality of any of the characters in Goon Squad. Since I couldn’t feel her at all I wasn’t interested in her story. The problem with writing a series of short stories as a novel is there sometimes not enough time to make the character relatable so that people can have a feeling of what they must be experiencing. Jennifer Egan said in this interview that the whole point was for her to experience a world that she did not have and so also the reader is looking to experience experiences that they would never have such as being a secret agent because it’s too dangerous. The main character of the sequel should definitely be Sasha or possibly Benny who had a lot of storyline in Goon Squad. Jennifer Egan could have written an entire novel about just the 12 years in which Sasha was working for Benny. From this place of comfort she could slip in lots of stuff about the more extreme characters such as Kitty, Jules and Rob. Scotty also deserves an honorable mention. But I found his life to be extremely unrealistic. How could a old washed up rock star (destroyed from years of alcoholism) work an extremely physical job all day as a janitor?