Publisher: Anchor Books, 2010
Where I Got It: Bought it
My Rating: 3.5 stars
I don’t know how to begin describing this book to you. It is unlike any book I’ve ever read, and writing a straightforward book description is pretty much impossible. However, I’ll take a shot and try to give you feel for what you’ll find inside.
The book is (loosely) focused on two characters: Bennie (an aging punk rocker and record executive) and Sasha (his troubled assistant who takes things that don’t belong to her). We meet Sasha in the first “chapter,” and Bennie in the next. Now, pretend you have a special kaleidoscope for both Bennie and Sasha—one that can be turned and will show you their lives in a different arrangement, from a different perspective, and at a different time. Look through the kaleidoscope, give it a turn and … click … we go back in time and meet Bennie as a teenager in a “chapter” narrated by a member of his band, the Flaming Dildos. Click again. We’re now in Africa with the children of a record producer who ends up as Bennie’s mentor. Another click and we’re twenty years in the future as the record producer lays dying. And so on and so forth.
As the book progresses, each turn of the kaleidoscope presents another arrangement in the pattern that makes up Bennie and Sasha’s life. The book isn’t linear; it jumps back and forth through time. If you meet a character in one chapter, you will meet them again later on in another incarnation (sometimes in the future; sometimes in the past). The chapters don’t follow a predictable pattern either. Some are told in first person. Some in third person. One chapter is an extended “magazine” article for a celebrity interview that went awry. Still another (and the original reason I wanted to read the book) written entirely as a PowerPoint presentation. (This section was surprisingly effective and ended up being more emotionally affecting than you might imagine.)
In short, this isn’t your typical book, and I imagine you’ve already made up your mind whether you want to tackle it or not. If you decide to take it on, here are a few tips:
- Don’t read it spread out over a long time or you’ll begin to lose the threads that are holding the story together. I read the book over the course of a week (alternating with another book) and began to struggle with recalling details and who was who. Because the story is told in such a non-linear way, it is important to focus and read it with as few breaks as possible.
- To understand the rather enigmatic title, this quote might help: “Time’s a goon, right?”
- The book is divided into two main sections—A and B. Keep in mind that the book is very much about how we all travel from Point A to Point B…and why and how we got there. If you see a character’s A, know that you will eventually see the B as well.
I’m honestly not sure how I felt about this book. In many ways, it felt like a collection of interrelated short stories that end up weaving together to form a rather intricate and tricky pattern. As I plunged into each “chapter,” I never knew where I was initially. It was like jumping into a cold pool and having a bit of a shock until you got used to the water. Once I began to adapt, things started to come together. Then, at the end of the chapter, I’d get out of the pool and jump into another one and start all over again. It wasn’t an easy read. You definitely need to keep your wits about you. In fact, I think I need to reread the book to fully get a grip on exactly what Egan managed to do. It is a tricky balancing act she is attempting, and I think she manages it. However, having just finished the book, I think I’m too close to fully appreciate it as my head is still spinning. (Hence, it gets my mysterious 3.5 rating, which is reserved for books that I’m not sure what to do with. I recognize the genius of what Egan is doing but my main reaction after many of the chapters was “Huh.”)
The bottom line: If you’re an adventurous reader who likes to be challenged by a book, this would be a perfect read as it requires some effort on the reader’s part. In fact, I think to be fully appreciated, you might have to read the book twice. If you like your stories told in a linear and easily understandable way, this book is not for you. It is a challenge and an acquired taste—a taste I think I liked but felt very unfamiliar on my tongue.
But now that I’ve written all this, it occurs to me that this IS a taste that I’ve tasted before! This book is really the literary equivalent of Pulp Fiction, one of my all-time favorite movies. Both play with time and storytelling and require multiple visits to fully appreciate all that is going on. Although Goon Squad didn’t leave me quite as breathless and excited as Pulp Fiction, I realize that another visit is probably in order.
If you read this book, I’d LOVE to hear what you thought about it. Do you think you can appreciate the book on the first go round or would it take more than one read? Were you able to keep all the balls that Egan gives you to juggle in the air?
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