Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

It began in the usual way, in
the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.
Opening to
  A Visit From The Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
I'm in love with this book.  So much that there is no way I can write a dispassionate review.  I could only gush.  So, instead, I'm posting some pictures, a few charts I made, and a couple of key passages in the hope that they will explain why this book is so great to my book club which I'm sure will hate it.  It's that kind of book. Maybe these will help you when your book club meets to discuss Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad.

Here we go:

"You can, Scotty---you have to," Bennie said, with his usual calm, but through his thinning silver hair Alex caught a shimmer of sweat on his crown.  "Time's a goon, right?  You gonna let that goon push you around?"


As Ted sat, feeling the evolution of the afternoon, he found himself thinking of Susan.  Not the slightly different version of Susan, but Susan herself--his wife--on a day many years ago, before Ted had begun folding up his desire into the tiny shape it had become.

Sasha's Circle.  Map by C.B. James
Each color group represents one story/character set
On a trip to new York riding the Staten Island Ferry for fun, becuase neither one of them had ever done it, Susan turned to him suddenly and said, "Let's make sure it's always like this." and so entwined were their thoughts at that point that Ted knew exactly why she'd said it: not because they'd made love that morning or drunk a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse at lunch--because she'd felt the passage of time.    And then Ted felt it, too, in the leaping brown water, and scudding boats and wine--motion, chaos everywhere--and he'd held Susan's hand and said, "Always.  It will always be like this."

Chapters in chronological order:
  • A - 4 - "Safari"
  • A - 3 - "Ask Me If I Care"
  • B - 11 - "Goodbye, My Love"
  • B - 10 - "Out of Body"
  • B - 9 - "Forty-Minute Lunch: Kitty Jackson Opens Up About Love, Fame and Nixon!"
  • A - 6 - "X's and O's"
  • A - 5 - "You (Plural)"
  • B - 7 - "A to B"
  • B - 8 - "Selling the General"
  • A - 2 - "The Gold Cure"
  • A - 1 - "Found Objects"
  • B - 13 - "Pure Language"
  • B - 12 - "Great Rock and Roll Pauses"

Recently, he'd mentioned that trip in some other context, and Susan had looked him full in the face and chimed, in her sunny new voice "Are you sure that was me?  I don't remember a thing about it!" and administered a springy little kiss to the top of Ted's head.  Amnesia, he'd thought.  Brainwashing. But it came to him now that Susan had simply been lying.  He'd let her go, conserving himself for--what?  It frightened Ted that he had no idea.  But he'd let her go, and she was gone.

"The pause makes you think the song will end.  And then the song isn't really over, so you're relieved.  But then the song does end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL."

Character map by C.B. James
Each color group represents one story/character set

The warrior smiles at Charlie.  He's nineteen, only five years older than she is, and has lived away from his village since he was ten.  But he's sung for enough American tourists to recognize that in her world, Charlie is a child.  Thirty-five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence between the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire.  He'll have had four wives and sixty-three grandchildren by then, one of whom, a boy named Joe, will inherit his lalema: the iron hunting dagger in a leather scabbard now hanging at his side.  Joe will go to college at Columbia and study engineering, becoming an expert in visual robotic technology that detects the slightest hint of irregular movement (the legacy of a childhood spent scanning the grass for lions).  He'll marry an American named Lulu and remain in New York, where he'll invent a scanning device that becomes standard issue for crowd security.  He and Lulu will buy a loft in Tribeca, where his grandfather's hunting dagger will be displayed inside a cube of Plexiglass, directly under a skylight.

Turned out everyone in my book club loved it.  


Mr. Brame said...

I see you did a much better job keeping track of the characters than I did. Reading this blog, I had one of those "Ahhhhhhh, I get it!" moments. But, at the risk of seeming obtuse, I won't elaborate.

C.B. James said...

I confess. I read it twice. I took lots of notes the second time through so I could make these charts. I used bubbl.us for the character webs. I wanted to test out the website for use with my students.

Alexandra said...

Wow, that's intriguing! I didn't realize it was that kind of a novel, the type that makes you want to make graphs :) I see a lot of love or hate reactions to this one around.

Emily said...

Your charts are amazing! The first thing that's seriously tempted me to read this book. (I may have a problem with steering clear of popular books, even when I really would love them.)

manoferrors said...

Brilliant review. (Please stop reading so many good books - my list of books I have to read because CB likes them is getting too long.)

Meghan said...

I just bought this book two days ago - so I'm thrilled you loved it! I can't wait to read it myself.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

C.B. James said...

Alexandra, The people who love it are right. ;-)

Emily, I now what you mean. I almost avoided this one for just that reason.

manoferrors, You're not asking me to read bad books, are you......

Meghan, Hope you like it, too.

Gavin said...

Happy Summer, James. Okay, you've convinced me. I've been avoiding this one but thank goodness for that gift card!

Mrs. B. said...

Great review and excellent charts and graphs! It's a pretty cool book isn't it? I liked it a lot though I can't say I loved it though. Maybe it's because I didn't really love the characters. I loved Egan's writing, her style and the stories. I'm surprised there are people who didn't like it.

fantaghiro23 said...

My mouth is hanging open after seeing your charts and graphs. I can tell how much you loved the book. Loved it myself, but your charts, especially the one about chronological order, give me a whole different reason to love Goon Squad more. Thanks!

Karina.Zhen said...

Very cute detailed graph! I sense that you love this book, where we should definitely read it as well! It seems like there was a lot going in the book, I assume since you had a good little breakdown.

Jenners said...

I can't imagine how much time and effort went into making those graphs! When I reread the book (and I plan on doing so) I will definitely be using them!!! I made the mistake of not reading straight through the first time and got lost in the book. I wasn't prepared mentally for it and know that I lost bits and pieces (OK ... CHUNKS) and I want to appreciate this book in all its glory! Glad you loved it!

Ed Wood said...

I *knew* someone would beat me to doing the character map. Well done.
I've just finished this excellent book: can't recommend it enough.
Ed from Cambridge, UK

Bybee said...

I loved it, too and wish that I could have been at your book group.

Question: When Sasha finally settles down, she's making art with all kinds of stuff...do you think she's still got her lifelong problem? (trying not to spoiler)

I need to read it again! I was so caught up in Lou's being such a douchebag that I didn't pay still, close attention to the future of the warrior's son. Just now, when I read your review, I had an ooooh...moment.

Another thing that escaped me was the As and Bs. I wondered briefly about them then forgot. I might not have gotten it at all,because it's been such a long time since albums.

Thanks for the charts!!!

C.B. James said...

I going to say Sasha has finally found what she needs and no longer has that particular issue. I can't say if that's what really happens or if it's just the ending I want for Sasha because I came to like her so much.

leeswammes said...

What a great way to map out (!) the characters! I'm not sure this book is for me, with so many characters. Although, sine you did the work already, I could just copy your character maps and keep them alongside while I read the book.

chad said...

i appreciate this!

Jeff Hagan said...

I really liked A Visit from the Goon Squad and I was really tempted to try to map out the character connections, just for my own review. Then I thought, I bet the internet already did this for me! Thanks---this is really great.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

These charts are amazing! I've already read the book, and loved it, but I will absolutely be printing them to use when I re-read it. I became so wrapped up in this book. I loved how it made me pay attention to each individual character in every chapter, because you never knew who we would see later in the book. Wonderful review!

Jesse said...

My secret to successfully (and largely effortlessly) tracking each of the characters and their relationships: In-book search on the Kindle. Character name I barely recognize? Search for the first instance of that name and quickly scan the context.

Michael said...

Thanks so much for taking the time. Clearly a labor of love. I had actually purchased the book as a gift, then decided I might read it myself, then concluded that it might be a little densely intertwined for that particular giftee, then went looking for some "crib notes" and found your blog. The side and track listing is so helpful, and the character map too. I've printed them out and put them in the book with a note saying, after you've read this, I want it back so I can read it again.

charidea said...

thanks CB (at first i was confused when i entered your site as my initials are also CB and i thought whoa this site knows who i am)
i'm reading Goon for my (all guys) book club and got thoroughly confused and went to "the google" to find out who the F* everyone was. Dolly? hello? your charts are amazing! I am also (synchronistically speaking) a mad chartist, but i haven't posted any on my blog. This page saved the day. Thanks
CB Murphy cbmurphy.net

Sara said...

One thing: most interpretations i have seen recently have the concert as the final event chronologically, and based on its dystopian tone i tend to concur that it occurs at the same time if not after "Great Rock 'n' Roll Pauses." Also, since Bennie is in High School in 1979 (thus probably 16 or 17) and "pushing sixty" in the final chapter, it is mathematically necessary for it to be at least 2020 when the final chapter occurs. Thoughts? On the whole your research and diligence shows intense commitment and dedication. I appreciate your efforts!