Each chapter of Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit From the Goon Squad can stand alone as a story, but united, these chapters took my breath away. I got chills as I discovered yet another connection between them: Characters who age and reappear. Younger selves revealed. Shadows filled in. Events alluded to that come to pass. The language itself (Chapter 13 is called “Pure Language.)
The subject of time and what it does to us is threaded throughout Goon Squad. From Chapter 3: “Ask Me If I Care:”
Lou looks so happy, surrounded by his kids like any normal dad, that I can’t believe this Lou with us is the very same Lou.
From Chapter 5: “You (Plural):”
My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit?”
From Chapter 11: “Goodbye, My Love:”
“Let’s make sure it’s always like this.” Ted knew exactly why she’d said it…because she’d felt the passage of time.
From Chapter 13: “Pure Language:”
What he needed was to find fifty more people like him, who had stopped being themselves without realizing it.
And in that moment, the longing he’d felt for Sasha at last assumed a clear shape: Alex imagined walking into her apartment and finding himself still there—his young self, full of schemes and high standards, with nothing decided yet.
And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.
In addition to time, A Visit From the Goon Squad is also about music. The book is divided into Side A and Side B, recalling 33s and 45s. The main character, Bennie Salazar, founded the Sow’s Ear record label. In my previous post, I quoted an excerpt that mentions, in the same paragraph, Bennie and a Jets game–a subtle reference to Elton John’s song.
Chapter 12 is Alison’s (the daughter of Sasha who worked for Bennie) power point presentation on “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.” This 75-page slide show is stunning in its juxtaposition of word restraint and emotional impact.
In addition to the surface, there’s below the surface, before the surface, after… From Chapter 6: “X’s and O’s:”
I’d said something literally, yes, but underneath that I’d said something else: we were both a couple of asswipes, and now only I’m an asswipe; why? And underneath that, something else: once and asswipe, always an asswipe. And deepest of all: You were the one chasing. But she picked me.
E. M. Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel: “Music … does offer in its final expression a type of beauty which fiction might achieve in its own way … and when we have finished does not every item…lead a larger existence than was possible at the time?”
Final post in a series of three on Jennifer Egan’s award-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad: first post and second post.
*cross-posted at The Contrary Blog
An interview on Egan’s writing process from the Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/2011/03/egan-wins-national-book-critics-circle’s-fiction-prize/
Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article–a more in-depth look at her writing process (for Goon Squad and in general), as well as a peek into what she’ll be writing next:
“I usually try to write five to seven original pages a day. I find if I go over that then I’m often really depleted for the next day and I find its better to hold onto the continuity… I print out and save all my drafts and I number them so if I start to have that experience of something good having disappeared, I can go through them and I can dig back to what I’m looking for. I distrust the continuous presence of a screen because there’s no history there.”
For more: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/03/24/how-do-you-write-a-great-work-of-fiction-jennifer-egan-explains-the-steps/tab/print/
I have been feeling that way about the screen and no history. In fact, I have some pieces for which all history is lost, except for the draft I printed to submit for feedback. Many of the “in between” revisions never got to the printer. I think I may have to consider this practice of printing and labeling. Egan’s comment here give me lots to think about. Thanks, Cynthia.
Jodi, I printed that whole article. I found her process fascinating.
I picked up her book yesterday. I can’t wait to read it!
Katherine, I don’t know anyone who’s read it who hasn’t loved it. Let me know what you think.