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Goon Squad #1

A Visit from the Goon Squad

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A Visit from the Goon Squad captures the moment where lives interact, and where fortunes ebb and flow. Egan depicts with elegant prose and often heart-wrenching simplicity, the sad consequences for those who couldn't fake it during their wild youth - madness suicide or prison - in this captivating, wryly, humorous story of temptation and loss.

351 pages, Paperback

First published June 8, 2010

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About the author

Jennifer Egan

45 books7,490 followers
Jennifer Egan is the author of several novels and a short story collection. Her 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and was chosen as New York City’s One Book One New York read. Her previous novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times book prize, and was named one of the best books of the decade by Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Also a journalist, she has written frequently in the New York Times Magazine, and she recently completed a term as President of PEN America. Her new novel, The Candy House, a sibling to A Visit From the Goon Squad, was published in April, 2022, and was recently named one of the New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2022, as well as one of President Obama’s favorite reads of 2022.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 21,049 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick Brown.
141 reviews2,458 followers
August 24, 2010
Spoiler alert: You will get old. You will die. Things will never be like they are right now. And yet, how things are right now will determine how they are in the future. This is so.

The "goon" in the title of this book is time. It opens with a quote from Proust, the poet laureate of memory, about how we cannot recapture the people we were in past the places where we were those people, but rather that those people exist within us, always. And that, it seems to me, is more or less the book, in a nutshell. But, oh, how it gets there. How the story unfolds -- stories, really -- is breathtaking. This the best book I've read this year.

A collection of narratives -- they aren't really stories -- centered around various record industry denizens -- an aging producer, his assistant, her college best friend, the producer's mentor, his wife's brother, a publicist, etc. -- Goon Squad is a novel about lives. It opens with Sasha, the beautiful, troubled assistant to record producer Bennie Salazar -- and continues on through a host of characters who knew them. And knew is the word here, for the lesson of the book seems to be that we are not the same people we were before. Those people are dead, and yet the people we all became -- the sagging, sad, tired, knowing people we are now -- those people are inextricably tied to the people we were. We are simultaneously incapable of recovering what was lost and yet bound to know what it is that we're missing.

Does this sound like the book is horribly, horribly sad? It isn't. It's beautiful and clever and very smart, and, okay, a little bit heartbreaking. One of my favorite aspects of the book is how it deals with technology. Facebook, in the novel, is a kind of memory, excavating lost lives from the ether, reconnecting people with the people they were before...or at least the people they knew before. And in the end, it's a burst of horrible, relentless technology that seems to save the music business. And one of the most powerful chapters of the book is told in powerpoint (To wrench soul from the teeth of a Microsoft product is truly a feat unto itself). In fact, this book may be one of the most subtly speculative works of fiction I've read. It presents a future near enough to include all of us, close enough to be recognizable, and still strangely different from where we are today.

I realize this review dances around the book. It tells you what the book is about without really telling much of what the story is. And that's because the story of the book wouldn't sound like much on its own: Some people grow up. They work in the music business. Their friends die, and then so does their business. But those people keep going. They have lives and love affairs and children. They make new friends and rediscover people they assumed were dead. Their lives cross with one another in myriad ways. And then they cross again. I keep returning, again and again to the section on Jocelyn, a girl who ran away from home to be with a record producer, a man who spit her out almost before he was done chewing her up. The passage is on page 65, and it's one of several haunting paragraphs in Jocelyn's section:

"We stand there, quiet. 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? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?"

This book, it ambushed me.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,910 followers
November 22, 2011
Um, this is just BAAAAAAD. Bold-face, capital-letters BAD. Absolutely awful!
What.....were.....they.....thinking????? Oh, I forgot, they weren't!
When did the Pulitzer become the Puke-litzer? I'll never again trust that prize designation except with books from a long time ago.

Don't be fooled by the first chapter, which is not too bad. Sort of an interesting start, about a kleptomaniac aging punk rock chick. After that, FORGET IT! Dumpster filler.

A lot of people make a big mention of the PowerPoint section of the book. Cool gimmick, right? But as far as I'm concerned, there's too much emphasis in the book on (cough cough) power "points" in general, if ya know what I mean. Left a bad taste in my mouth, and in the mouths of some of the characters, no doubt.

So aside from the gamahuche and other potency obsessions, there's a lot of cocaine and 'ludes and really bad punk rock song lyrics. Oh, and a lot of really annoying, unlikeable characters who seem to substitute therapy for actually getting on with their lives.

I wouldn't have been so hard on this book had it not been given such a prestigious award. I never would have even tried to read it if not for the Pulitzer. Since when did gimmicky books with no substance merit consideration for literary awards? Was this really the best they had to choose from? I doubt it. I'm now fully convinced that the Pulitzer Prize has become a purely political handout dropped into some lucky writer's trick-or-treat bag. BOO!!
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 24, 2018
hell's bells. believe this hype.

this book is the saddest, truest, wisest book i have ever read in a single day. which is not to belittle it - my tear-assing through it is because i did not want to stop reading it and resented any interruption that tried to get in my way. i am someone who plans things. i have timetables in my head - i have to, in order to get everything done. nothing important, just "at 8:00 i will untangle my necklaces while i watch my netflix. at 10:00, i will fold my laundry and then pay bills, etc etc. this book ruined all of my good intentions. i read straight through one mental time-allotment after another, leaving dishes unwashed and e-mails unanswered. and i did not care one bit.

as i read, i kept thinking, "this is exactly right - this woman gets it, this is just what i was talking about the other day." because karen has been doing a little bit of dwelling lately, and this book really captured so many universals of youth, adulthood ...and the rest. she knows just how to twist the knife.

everyone has been praising this book since it came out, but all i knew going into it was that there was a powerpoint chapter and a dfw chapter (which i had already read, at greg's command, months ago). i didn't even know they were stories that combined to show facets of people's lives in different times and places and stages and manifestations. i didn't know who would attain closure and who would fade away, i just thought it was another book by the lady who wrote invisible circus.

i had read invisible circus years ago and had been unimpressed, and then i start hearing all this talk about look at me and how it is this incredible book, but i looked at the cover and i thought - "no, thank you".i am pretty sure i bought the keep, but it got sucked into one of the stacks here, never to resurface. but then this comes out and greg and tom fuller are praising it to the heavens, and then tom gives me his copy to have forever, so i pretty much have to read it. i do not disobey my work-dad.

and as always, father knows best...

i have never seen crash because "they" tell me it is retarded, but i did see 21 grams and babel and amores perros and 11:14 and all of those others - disjointed narratives where one thing affects another thing and it's all connected, man... (amores perros is the only one you need to see from the above list), but how often does it really work, and how often is it just flashy storytelling to compensate for lack of a true plot??

it's the same in the litworld. i thought michael cunningham's the hours did it really well, and this - well, this makes it work perfectly. because it is less about the impact an action has upon others than having the opportunity to understand a character's motivations from witnessing snapshot-chapters from different periods and the -oh god not again - it is like a sneeze - zeitgeist of the pop cultural (punk rock-ical) and historical climates of these poor broken characters.

but elizabeth - it is not a downer!! it is not one of my "downer books". it is more... gently nostalgic. and bewildered. definitely bewildered.

"she was thinking of the old days, as she and bennie now called them - not just pre-crandale but premarriage, preparenthood, pre-money, pre-hard drug renunciation, preresponsibility of any kind, when they were still kicking around the lower east side with bosco, going to bed after sunrise, turning up at strangers' apartments, having sex in quasi-public, engaging in daring acts that had more than once included (for her) shooting heroin, because none of it was serious. they were young and lucky and strong - what did they have to worry about?? if they didn't like the result, they could go back and start again."

i mean - gutpunch.this kind of blithe optimism is exactly what touched me when i was reading shiver shake . remember being indestructible?? i sure do.

this is also one of the few works where 9/11 is used tastefully and more or less subtly, and the absence of the buildings is worked very well into the pervasive loss that holds this book together.

the NYU chapter is greg's favorite, and it is both heartbreaking on its own and bittersweet for me because it could have very easily been me. i remember sunwarmed fire escapes between classes and bobst and for me it was mamoun's falafel, but regardless. it was both familiar and far away. i liked the naples chapter best, because for me it is storytelling 101 - a perfect story and the last line kills me because "muttered" is the best possible word there, and it complicates what could have been a very easy and pat ending.

jennifer egan i luvs you.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 18, 2011
I attended a novel-writing workshop last week and one of the things that I took home with me was: write to express and not to impress. I have a feeling, and I could be wrong on this since I am just a paying reader, that Jennifer Egan wrote this novel A Visit from the Good Squad mainly to impress. Well, it won the nod of the Pulitzer jurors so the trick worked!

Each of the 13 chapters is told in different points of view mostly by people who the two main protagonists, Bennie, the gold-eating record producer and his kleptomaniac assistant Sasha interact with in the different parts of their lives and in the different locales: San Francisco, New York, Africa, Italy, etc. The narration is not chronological; it jumps from one time frame to another and it made my reading quite a struggle. It talks about punk and rock music and bands that I have not heard of maybe because I am not an American and not really into those music genres.

The most-talked about Powerpoint presentation seemed to be a refreshing way to tell a story and it provided a break or a pause, that seems to me as the main message of that chapter, from the usual plain narrative. My only comment is that the slides look precise in delivering the messages that they want to impart when in fact, they should have been done by the 12-y/o Ally, the daughter of the middle-age Sasha. They would have been more interesting and "realistic" if there are illustrations or hand drawings done by a 12-y/o rather than Venn Diagrams, Fishbone Analysis, Cause-Effect, Bubble Charts, etc. Though the slides look neat, they felt contrived if not overdone.

The main theme of aging and being sorry for misspent lives is subtly imparted and is the one of the strong points of this book. Also, the frequent incorporation of strong brother-sister relationships rather than the usual child-parent, husband-wife, friends, etc. is also noteworthy. Egan is very good at delivering her message via her characters. She does not state the obvious but she lets her readers figure out the lessons by themselves through the events and how her characters react to those and how they interact with each other.

Having said that, the story itself could have gotten at least 4 stars from me. However, Egan made the reading of this novel difficult with the multiple points of view and time frame. I have no problem with her different locales and narrative styles. Please don't get me wrong: This is not a criticism but just a matter of personal preference. Maybe this is the reason why I like Biographies and Memoirs. I normally prefer stories that are focused on a single character from page 1 to the last page as it is like getting to know somebody from head to toe. I hate shifting narratives about several characters especially if done abruptly and too frequently. Reading all the 13 chapters of this book is like reading 13 short stories and while reading you have to figure out how one or two of the characters relate to the previous. Not only you have to spot them but also think of their age relative to the previous chapter. Then you have to go back and search what happened to that character in the last chapter where he/she appeared. A book this thick normally takes me only 2-4 days to finish but this one took me full (drop all the other currently-reading books) 7 days! When I read I normally become attach to my characters and it is just painful if in every 10 or so pages there are new ones that you have to meet and read about and if the character that you met and liked in the previous chapter reappears, you have to figure out what is his/her age and who are those people around him/her.

The last chapter brings back the character of Alex, Sasha's boyfriend, who only appeared in the very first chapter. This style reminded me of the circular narrative flow of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's masterpiece, that is one of the most unforgettable reads that I so far had this year (4 stars). Mitchell also used those styles (multiple POVs, shifting narrative, different (in fact, outrageously different) time frames and different set of characters. I even read some of the chapters with a huge Lexicon dictionary by my side, something that I normally hate - my learn-a-word-a-day-stage is now so yesteryears - but it was worth the trouble in the case of Cloud Atlas.

I just did not feel the same way with A Visit from the Good Squad. Part of the problem, I think, is that there is no character here that is likeable nor a character I can empathize with. It could be a cultural thing, e.g., eating gold flakes, klepto, fish as a gift, etc. though. But I just felt that all of the characters seem to be too distant and this book, overall, just alienated me.

I am not rating this with 1-star though. I still liked the novel's universal message and the use of the Powerpoint. Two saving graces of this novel, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
403 reviews3,541 followers
April 15, 2023
Standin’ on your mama’s porch
You told me that it’s last forever
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
Those were the best days of my life

-Bryan Adams

Have you ever had a defining moment, one where you knew it was important, where you wanted it to last forever, wanted to keep it in your hand or your pocket but knew in that instant that it was floating away, through your fingertips?

It might be someone that you met in college, who you connected with so strongly emotionally, but you knew that things would never work out. You have that moment, future not guaranteed.

That is what A Visit From The Goon Squad is about. It is about time, moments that are slipping away. Egan writes so clearly, so beautifully that A Visit From The Goon Squad is soul stirring.
At the outset of the novel, we find Sasha, struggling with kleptomania, battling an overwhelming desire to palm and steal objects. She describes the beauty of an ordinary screwdriver, shining, sparkling. After she obtains the glorious screwdriver, it seems so ordinary. I can’t help but think that this is a metaphor for life.

How often do we reach, aim, and stretch forward towards a goal? If only we accomplish X, everything in our lives will magically fall into place. Then, if by some miracle, we magically achieve X, we discover that there is no magic elixir in life. But those moments before achieving the goals, aren’t they beautiful? Isn’t it exhilarating to have that fire in your belly, that burn in your soul, that driving force that bolts you out of bed in the morning? The achievement is nothing compared to the ride.

One of the recurring themes in this book is music. In some ways, the music industry has changed tremendously. However, music is also still music at the end of the day, especially live music. If you haven’t already, go to YouTube, type in Mr. Tambourine Man (Live at Newport Folk Festival. 1964). This is just Bob Dylan, one man singing, playing the guitar and harmonica. There are no backup singers, no glitzy lights or costumes. This is just raw, pure talent.

When you listen to live music, it exists in that moment. Even if you whip out your Smartphone and record the moment, it still won’t be the same. You won’t be able to feel the strum of the guitar or the deep boom of the bass reverberating throughout your body.

If it isn’t obvious, A Visit from the Goon Squad is deeply moving.

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Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 4 books577 followers
June 6, 2011
The National Book Critics Circle Award. A Penn/Faulkner Award Finalist. The freaking Pulitzer. It has to be good, right? I thought so, to the point that it was the only book that i brought with me on the plane this weekend, but I was really disappointed.

This book, a collection of quasi-connected short stories, covers a span of time between the 1970s and 2020s and follows a variety of people, most notably a former punk rocker turned music executive and a young troubled kleptomaniac turned an adult troubled kleptomaniac. The titular "goon squad" equals "passing time" and the major theme of the book seems to be, "Hey, things change over time."

The first thing I noticed about the book is that I had already read several of the "chapters" in short story compilations and magazines over the past five or six years. The second thing I noticed was that I didn't enjoy any of them. I couldn't shake the feeling that Egan was distracting me from tired story lines and baffling, semi-heartless characters with a slew of gimmicks. For example: This story is written in second person! Please don't pay attention to the fact that it is merely one of a billion stories you have read in writing workshops about a love triangle between high, sad college students in New York City!

The lack-of-heart and not-my-style writing style did not blend well with the characters or stories, which seemed like a very over-used collection of people and places:

- A unhappy rich person who is not sure what to do with his life in New York City.
- People unsure of what to do with their lives collected in a loft somewhere in New York City.
- Some people on drugs and not sure how they got there, at the intersection of two streets in New York City.

Not that I don't think that you can write a successful, soul-having book about unsure people in New York City. I just didn't find this one touching or innovative or well written (although I admit, the best story in the book is the often-mentioned Power Point story). I simply couldn't get over the fact that Egan seemed to have trouble having her characters really feel. Often, she fell back on 1) mentioning 9-11 in a vague way or 2) mentioning that the character in question had tried to slit their wrists several times in the past or 3) having a dog bark in the distance. Seriously. A dog barks in the distance on the last page of the novel (I hope that does not count a spoiler). Oh, and I forgot to mention the worst thing! Egan should have won an award for Worst Last Lines of Stories. Again, these last lines seemed to be attempts at meaningfulness that really fell flat for me as a reader.

And while I've read some reviews that call the work satire, and Egan a humorist, I often found the work silly and meaningless instead of funny and insightful. I also kept getting the feeling that parts of the book was cobbled together - that Egan was "forcing" some of her shorter works into the novel-ish thing she was working on (example: the story about the general).

One of the other issues is that I can just think of so many better books in the last two years or so that were not recognized with such consistent praise - like Maile Meloy's Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. It has fewer bells and whistles, but it has a boatload of well-written stories and heartfelt characters. Seriously, go read that book instead.

In the last story in the book, a huge crowd gathers for a concert - not because they like the music, but because they have heard through social media that it is going to be a really great show. This is exactly how I felt about the book itself - I read some great reviews, I saw some friends mention it online, and i bought it without inquiring further. The one difference, I guess, is that the concert in the book ends up being good.

I think part of the problem is that I went in with very high expectations. But another part of the problem was that I wasn't made to care about any of the characters or their actions and that I found the "innovative" tools used to tell many the stories to be largely distracting and gimmicky. There used to be two buildings in that empty space of sky. A dog barked in the distance.

Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,154 reviews1,694 followers
January 10, 2023

Jennifer Egan

Quando Kevin Costner fu intervistato dopo la sua prima regia, che ottenne addirittura sette (molto immeritati) Oscar, e immagino avesse di fronte giornalisti sorpresi da questo eccesso di riconoscimento, spiegò il segreto del suo ottimo risultato in un modo molto semplice, perfino terra terra: ho messo sempre la macchina da presa al centro della scena, disse.
Di conseguenza ogni scena è ‘centrata’, giusta, riuscita (no, questo non lo disse, questo rimase sottinteso).

Mappa dei personaggi.

Come tante, è una cosa più facile a dirsi che a farsi.
E io non credo che la macchina da presa di Costner fosse sempre nel punto giusto.
Invece, sono certo che l’occhio di Jennifer Egan è sempre al centro delle scene che racconta – e il suo occhio, perfettamente al centro, è in diretto collegamento con le mani che scrivono a penna la prima stesura e poi proseguono il lavoro sulla tastiera.


Questo è un libro non facile da riassumere, ma è una lettura profondamente deliziosa.

La difficoltà di sintesi deriva dal fatto che i personaggi sono numerosi, che si va avanti e indietro nel tempo e nello spazio, senza ordine preciso, che di capitolo in capitolo (di racconto in racconto), cambia il protagonista, cambia il centro, e di conseguenza cambia anche la periferia.

Gli attori si scambiano il testimone come gli atleti: ma al contrario della pista, in queste pagine si procede in modo tutt’altro che lineare, si va spesso a ramengo, ognuno un po’ per i fatti suoi (poi, però, tutto torna, il quadro generale è preciso e magnifico, così come ogni singolo dettaglio).

Lo spazio temporale attraversa una cinquantina d’anni, i punti di vista sono tredici, si passa dalla prima alla terza persona, e perfino in un capitolo alla seconda.

Incontriamo qua e là gli stessi personaggi ora adulti, ora ancora adolescenti, o viceversa – quelli che erano secondari in un capitolo diventano protagonisti in un altro - siamo a Manhattan o Brooklyn, ma poi ci si ritrova a San Francisco vent’anni prima, o a Napoli, o nel deserto californiano.

Ci si muove con gran libertà in un’opera che ricorda una sinfonia, e ricorda un caleidoscopio: e questa libertà, che Egan faticava a trovare, ad agguantare, leggendo le interviste sembra che le sia stata ispirata da ‘Pulp Fiction’, da come la sceneggiatura di quel film manipoli il tempo (nel film non si fa che parlare del tempo, del compito assegnato che si deve portare a termine, delle cose che devono essere fatte, ma vengono rimandate, e i ritardi che si susseguono).


In quella o altra intervista, Egan dichiara anche altre due fonti d’ispirazione, Proust (la memoria) e i Sopranos (la voce del sangue, la famiglia), e sembra voler giocare a disorientare il lettore.

Disorientamento che potrebbe nascere non solo con queste affermazioni, ma anche perché è un libro che si può leggere ascoltandone la colonna sonora: la musica ha un’importanza enorme in queste pagine, il punk e il rock, con tanto di nomi e brani citati - musica sono anche le pause e i silenzi.

A questo proposito, giocando sulla traduzione del titolo originale, mi viene da dire che il tempo più che un bastardo è un teppista – Goon Squad un anno dopo l’uscita del libro è diventato anche il titolo di una canzone dei Deftones.


Egan usa l’ironia, a volte quasi la farsa, pur essendo toccante, profonda, struggente.
Non avrei mai pensato che una presentazione in power point potesse essere commovente (non dimenticherò mai la passeggiata notturna nel deserto di padre e figlia dodicenne, titolare della narrazione di quel capitolo, e la distesa infinita di pannelli solari che a un tratto si muovono silenziosi tutti insieme quanto basta per andare a catturare la luce della luna).

Non mi è mai capitato di incrociare il racconto di un tentativo di stupro che facesse così ridere (tanto più visto che è scritto come un pezzo di giornalismo alla David Foster Wallace, con corredo di lunghe note)...

Due volte grazie a Paolo Cognetti.

A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 26, 2023
Time is a strange old fella, isn't it? It creeps up on you and changes you bit by bit until you the new you and the old you are barely more than strangers to one another.

You can see time as a continuum, a line stretching from the past into the future, a long straight road to travel along with occasional proverbial 'road not taken' splitting off to the side - where barely perceptible changes accumulate one by one.

Or else you can look at it as a series of snapshots, a deck of cards randomly and carelessly shuffled, each one showing a face different from the rest - life in snapshots.

And these snapshots are so different from one another, separated by the years of smart choices and poor choices, pain and happiness, gains and losses, laughter and tears, having formed an invisible network of scars that forever preclude us from following that once-long-ago good-natured yet impossible advice of 'Please don't change; just stay the way you are!' - the promise we can wholeheartedly make but no matter how hard we try we cannot keep.
"Alex imagined walking into her apartment and finding himself still there— his young self, full of schemes and high standards, with nothing decided yet. The fantasy imbued him with careening hope."
I still can easily remember being sixteen, not knowing anything besides the blissful strong-willed ignorance of youth, where everything was just beginning, everything was still about to start, nothing was decided yet, and the world was one giant untapped possibility with no way of telling where time will eventually take you.

But time goes on, and now I can almost see thirty from this point in life and occasional gray hairs are creeping onto my temples (yes, I know - thirty is the new twenty and all that bullshit we tell ourselves to feel younger and preserve that feeling of endless, overwhelming potentiality and possibility that we so took for granted half a life ago), and there's not that much connecting me to that girl in the Land of Ago (to borrow Stephen King's phrase).

Time passes, and with it we change, slowly and subtly but unavoidably, until one day, just like a character in A Visit from the Goon Squad notices, we stop being ourselves 'without recognizing it'.
And then maybe we learn to appreciate the pauses in songs, like a young autistic kid the glimpses of whom we see through a powerpoint presentation made in the future by a 12-year-old girl (oh dear, how much do I loathe the inescapable omnipresent powerpoints that have reduced public speaking to mindless reading of slides!) - because they make us think the song is over, and then it restarts and we get a temporary reprieve from the end, the real end, and it's that giddy feeling of almost having cheated the inevitable, of having gotten away with something at least for a while longer.
They resumed walking. Alex felt an ache in his eyes and throat. “I don’t know what happened to me,” he said, shaking his head. “I honestly don’t.”
Bennie glanced at him, a middle-aged man with chaotic silver hair and thoughtful eyes. “You grew up, Alex,” he said, “just like the rest of us.”
This is a book about losses and regrets as people change with time - as well as glimpses of personal redemption, especially in the threads of the story connected to Sasha (who I really started to love after the NYU chapter - because how can you not?). It's a book full of little often unseen connections between the characters who have touched each other's lives in the ways they may never understand.
"Redemption, transformation — God how she wanted these things. Every day, every minute. Didn’t everyone?"

This book is about people connected by time, connected by music, with moments in life captured just like the pauses in songs, full of realized hopes and shattered dreams, with constant reminders of beautiful fragility of life. The road from A to B - be it in time or on two sides of a musical record - is not always in a straight line; it curves around, zigzags madly, loops back, runs into life itself - and is a path connecting the kaleidoscope snapshots of our beings that somehow will eventually fall into the beautiful but ever-changing patterns, which before you know it will fall apart into another snapshot, something different and unrecognizable - because time is a goon, after all.
“I came for this reason: I want to know what happened between A and B.”
And in the meantime, while the unrelentless goon is mercilessly dragging us along, we can look around at the fragile beauty of life around and try to remember the world for what it is now - because it will never be the same again. Because time is a goon. But for now, it's not yet over. “Sure, everything is ending,” Jules said, “but not yet.”
And for an instant he would remember Naples: sitting with Sasha in her tiny room; the jolt of surprise and delight he’d felt when the sun finally dropped into the center of her window and was captured inside her circle of wire. Now he turned to her, grinning. Her hair and face were aflame with orange light.
“See,” Sasha muttered, eyeing the sun. “It’s mine.”
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,845 followers
September 17, 2010
This is the best book ever that has a whole chapter done in power point.

I hate power point. I think it was invented by the devil and given to humanity to make us even dumber than we are now. I think teachers who use power point should be hog-tied by their intestines and then sodomized by Mary Lou Retton (and probably people in the corporate world too, but I don't know about that first hand, but I'm sure they deserve even worse). I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate power point, but Jennifer Egan can do a whole book in power point and I'd it would probably be more effective than most normal novelists are with whole pages filled with words at their disposal.

Back in November 2009 I proclaimed the ARC of Jonathan Dee's The Privileges the best novel of 2010. There are a few books that have come out that I haven't read yet, but which may be better (Citrus County is one that I think might) but I now know that this book is just as good, if not better, than Dee's.

This book has a) a lame cover, b) a lame jacket description, c) a chapter kind of poking fun (jesting?) at DFW's writing style, and d) a chapter written in power point; but still with all of these apparent negatives the book is awesome.

I'm not going to try to sell you on the book. Coming from a punk background I know that too many people liking something inherently diminishes the enjoyment one can get out of something. Since Jennifer Egan is already a fairly popular author, and me already being late to the game with liking her (for years I thought she was Janet Fitch, I knew they were different people, but I thought they were synonymous with each other) I can't risk you or anyone else that hasn't already read her finding out how great she is and stealing some of my precious enjoyment from me (for example it's a scientific fact that people who listened to Green Day when they were on Lookout! in 1993 enjoyed 97% more than they enjoyed them 12 months later in 1994 when everyone liked them. The enjoyment ratio flew way down and the music essentially didn't change. There is only so much enjoyment in the world to split up, fortunately there is an infinite amount of pain and sorrow so we can all partake in that).

Anyway, now that I've gotten that pesky talking about the book out of the way. Let us turn to one of the points in the power point chapter. For those of you who haven't read the book, and will not read the book and steal my enjoyment from me; the chapter deals with a family. The daughter of the family is the narrator, or constructor of a power-point journal. Her younger brother is semi-autistic. He has a thing for silence in music. Pauses. He makes loops of the different silences, he graphs them for duration and effect. And there is a fairly interesting description of different pauses in the history of rock music, but with two of my favorite examples left out, and with one artist who made too much use of them, but who used them effectively also left out.

One. The best use of the pause in music (well in punk music) is in the Sex Pistols song "Bodies". That NOFX is mentioned in the chapter and "Bodies" isn't, is well a travesty. While it's not as surprising a false-ending as "Please Play This Song on the Radio" or as quirky / funny / jokey, it is more effective for punk pathos. I read once in a book (I think it was England's Dreaming) that the sound of the Sex Pistol's imploding was captured at the end of "Belsen was a Gas" during their last show (in my reality they never re-formed, so we are talking 1978 here), when there was just silence for a second. That silence was preceded by the one in "Bodies" though where all of the fury was released in a string of almost nonsensical uses of the word fuck.

Two. Sunny Day Real Estate, "Seven". Here the use of short almost micro pauses and one slightly longer pause work to create a expectation, excitement and anxiety. One could argue that there are not pauses in this song, but that argument is wrong. Maybe it wouldn't fit in the dynamic of the chapter because it would be very difficult to capture the pauses to sample them. More mention should be made of the first Sunny Day Real Estate album.

Three. Matthew Sweet. The man made an art out of the false-ending. He deserved to be mentioned in a chapter dealing strongly with pauses and silence in rock songs. I'm not a huge fan, but he should be given a mention.

Hopefully this aside has convinced you to not read this book and allow me to enjoy it more than if you stole some of my pleasure.
Profile Image for Rachel.
289 reviews
July 15, 2011
Normally I don't start reviewing books before I've finished them, but saying how much I hate this book at the halfway point is cathartic.

I hate this book. I HATE IT SO MUCH.

Is it well-written? Probably. Complex characters? Yeah, I'll give them that.

That being said, even reading one chapter of this leaves me so freaking depressed that I want to put it in the sink and light it on fire. Also, the characters may be complex, but I don't care what happens to any of them. I really don't. There's this one part where a guy almost gets eaten by a lion (no, it doesn't make more sense in context). I found myself wishing that the lion had gotten everyone. At least it would have been more interesting. (See: Ray Bradbury's The Veldt for an example of how lions eating all of the characters can forward your plot--THAT man could make a short story stand up and sing.)

I also don't really know where this book is going, other than "Life is awesome when you're young and free and sucks when you are old and have responsibilities and belong to the local country club. Oh yeah, and then you die. Probably in a painful manner resulting from your poor life choices." Well, fan-fucking-tastic, I am so glad I get so many hours of enjoying THAT message.

If this book wasn't for book club, i would have stopped after the first chapter. And though I have always pushed through books for book club before, this may be the first that I don't finish.

I hate this book. This deserves the Pulitzer like Titanic deserved the Academy Award for best picture. Yeah, I get it, Egan wrote a chapter in PowerPoint, she's soooooo innovative. I've made 30 + PowerPoint presentations in my life, where's my goddamn award?

Profile Image for Joel.
554 reviews1,622 followers
July 18, 2022
"Time is a goon," we're told, and the older I get (and I'm not even old), the more I realize that this is really true, as years fly faster and faster and things that once sounded like a long way off are suddenly in the rear view mirror (like: it is 2010; in one year, 9/11 will have been 10 years ago). I used to think 70 seemed old. With my parents newly retired and pushing the seven-decade mark, though, anyone who dies before 80 seems like they died young. I take heart in the fact that, barring a car crash, cancer, or freak tripping-over-the-cat-related catastrophe, I'm still less than halfway done with my brief time on this planet. Is this morbid? Are you supposed to start pondering your mortality a year from 30, or is this some kind of commentary on The Times in Which We Live? Or am I just shifting my fears that I won't end up doing any of the neat things I want to do into the future, the fear that time is only going to keep getting faster, and pretty soon we'll be talking about where we were on that day 20 years ago when Everything Changed, or seemed like it would.

This isn't really about the book, but it is. Egan follows a bunch of characters who work in the music industry, ping-ponging from life to life, from the present, to the past, to the future. It makes total sense: time's a goon; it will creep up on you as quickly as turning a page. Nostalgia is a trap too: I don't miss the good old days for what they were, but for what lay ahead of me, the time I've already spent in-between then and now. This book encompasses all of that, allowing us to see it all: the way past regrets and mistakes shape our future choices, the way our lives will unfold and blossom or wither in ways we can't possibly expect, or maybe can exactly predict.

Oh, and it's also fabulously written in about a dozen different styles, from first- to second- to third-person and in newspaper articles and even in, yes, PowerPoint graphics. And it's about the music industry which is very cool but also big business and that's an interesting dichotomy, how do you commercialize and corporatize the spirit of punk rock, the primal scream of youth looking around and seeing nothing but waste, looking forward and seeing nothing but uncertainty?
Profile Image for Ilse.
458 reviews2,965 followers
September 22, 2016
punk is not dead

Christmas Eve, 2011. The foreboding sheen of a room filled with excited anticipation and beautiful glimmering presents piled up under the Christmas tree. This traditional family habit blending festive elation with infantile sibling jealousy and rivalry ever fuels surreptitious reflections on the guileful art of giving. Every year, I ingenuously and silently wish for a book. (Oh frustration! Do you recognize this experience? Having to live with an avid or obsessive reader, people might think they should actually help the reader, try to re-educate this pathetic creature, curing his book-addiction by rebuffing him his drug, so stop hoping ever getting a book by your family, get real and grow up, Ilse). Then my father selects a cute package looking like a book from the pile and offers it to….my little sister. While she is unwrapping Visit from the goon squad, the dimmed light fortunately conceals my jealous pea-green complexion. A novel about the merciless effects of Time, even labelled as a present-day riposte to Proust, about rock and punk music, experimental, humorous and elegantly written, showered with euphoric reviews in every paper and magazine I read. Sigh. How could my family torture me like this? This just to explain why expectations were damned high and why I was very thrilled when this was scheduled as the next read by my “real life” reading group.

Don’t let me be misunderstood. This novel is barely about music - it is partly an unsentimental defiling of popular music culture, exposing the corruption and perverting of the music business world - how capitalism effects and degenerates every level of life, even infecting and hedging in counterculture and rebellious youth just for profit. It’s the economy, stupid.

The start is promising. The structure surely looks clever – the welding together of the different viewpoints taken in the non-chronological 13 chapters – short stories in their own right - entangling the stories by a playful use of characters more or less subtly turning up in each other’s stories; in the beginning it almost reminded me of the narrative techniques used in the wonderful film Short Cuts. In an interview Egan frantically emphasized this is not merely a collection of short stories, defending its coherence and connectedness, although in the embryo stage there were just a couple of short stories. She compares her novel to a concept album. And there is where the novel misses a mark. Observing a skeleton, few laud the beauty of the bone structure. The novel bears a resemblance to an edifice of which someone forgot to remove the scaffolding. The structure is so obtrusively visible that it obscures the substance (in that respect, Egan’s distracting accent on structure reminded me of another much-admired novel which also left me underwhelmed and which, like Egan’s, also references to Proust, Bonsaï by Zambra).


Attempting to pinpoint why I lost my interest in the characters and where a sense of disenchantment slipped in, I discern 2 entirely personal flaws triggering this. First, punk and rock music are Radio Nostalgia to me, and as the flavor of the wild years is still with me, Egan’s prose suffers from a phoniness that cannot be saved by just namedropping one my favorite bands, the Dead Kennedys, or describing slam dancing. Where is the raw power, the energy in sex, drugs and rock-and-roll? Except for the occasional half smile it provoked, her prose is too slick and polished for me to call it sardonic (ever read Flaubert’s letters?). I am aware probably it is just me. I must have turned into some grumpy curmudgeon overnight without noticing, which could clarify another cause why the book eventually did not resonate with me. Reading about the various (mainly trivial) vicissitudes of the aging, over-the-hill rockers and their state of decay, I soon found myself humming snippets of a old Rolling Stones song, thinking about the successive generations at work alternately hitting the dance floor at the new year party when “their” music is played and staring at each other the rest of the time:
You're obsolete my baby
My poor old-fashioned baby
I said baby, baby, baby you're out of time.
However entertaining by flashes, it definitely wasn’t a wise idea – and perhaps not fair to Egan - to pick this immediately after reading a masterpiece of world literature, I'm Not Stiller, by Max Frisch. As to aesthetical and artistic taste, I clearly seem to have become a fogey.

Time as a bunch of ruthless thugs ever willing and able to beat you up and crush you is a lucky strike as a leitmotiv, but couldn’t prop up the whole novel. Neither could a flake of gold in your coffee. Panta Rei, as Heraclitus said. Memento Mori. Yeah, the Grim Reaper will come and get you sooner or later and everything is ending, but not yet. I think we all know. The British band Crass declared punk dead in 1978 in just a few lines which said it all:
Yes that's right, punk is dead,
It's just another cheap product for the consumers head.
Bubblegum rock on plastic transistors,
Schoolboy sedition backed by big time promoters.
CBS promote the Clash,
But it ain't for revolution, it's just for cash.
Punk became a fashion just like hippy used to be
And it ain't got a thing to do with you or me.
Talking about music and the spirit of the age, a pitch-perfect rock song could outdo Egan’s exposé. I still believe in the power of music. There is more authentic despair in this single song of Eels than in the whole idea of Time as a goon squad knocking at your door:
Rags To Rags
There's a spider crawling on the bathroom mirror
Right on top of my right eye
And I can't stop staring back
How did I get this way?
Take a big look at a living lie

Rags to rags and rust to rust
How do you stand when you've been crushed?
So rags to riches was a bust

Sometimes I dream about it
What it's like back home
The railroad tracks and the pussy willow
But I had to leave it
Now I go back
Whenever my tired head hits the pillow

Rags to rags and rust to rust
How do you stand when you've been crushed?
So rags to riches was a bust

Busted once again
Well I'll show them one day
That I can buy and sell the world

And one day I'll come through my american dream
But it won't mean a fucking thing

Rags to rags and rust to rust
How do you stand when you've been crushed?
So rags to rags and rust to rust
Don't let me go.
Should ask my sister if she read it anyway, meanwhile. Parenthetically, the kitchenware I got from my parents as a change that year (instead of “another” book), was fine for me, thank you. I love cooking and organizing parties.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,828 followers
August 26, 2016
Reading this book is like going into the future and eavesdropping on a conversation between two old friends who haven’t seen each other in years:

“Remember Bennie Salazar?”

“Sure. He was that record producer who used to put the gold flakes in his coffee. Didn’t he used to be in a band?”

“Yeah, he was a wannabe punk rocker in the ‘80s. He was friends with Scotty back then.”

“Was Scotty normal then? Because I heard he’s completely shithouse-rat-crazy these days.”

“Oh, he’s totally insane. Hey, what was Bennie’s assistant’s name?”


“That’s it. Whatever happened to her?”

“I’m not sure. I heard she was a total kleptomaniac.”

“Really? I heard some wild stories about her running around Europe back in the day.”

“Someone told me that a friend of hers drowned and really messed her up.”

“Huh. It had to be something. Oh, did you know Bennie’s ex-wife used to work for that PR woman Dolly?”

“The one who is trying to resurrect her business by helping that dictator rehab his image?”

“That’s her. Like she’ll ever get steady work again after that disaster she put together.”

“Wasn’t it Bennie’s ex-wife’s brother who attacked that actress that’s been hanging around that dictator, too?”

“That’s right! Small freaking world.”

See what I mean? You don’t really know these people, but after a while, you get to know their stories and get a feeling for the connections between them. That’s what Jennifer Egan has done in this creative little novel. By telling a series of stories loosely based around Bennie and Sasha’s past, present and future, she builds a web of relationships that becomes large but always feels intimate.

One of her cuter tricks is an entire section told via a PowerPoint presentation written by a child in the future. It sounds like a gimmick that might be good for a few laughs, but Egan actually uses it to give us a pretty detailed portrait of the future family of one of the characters we’ve read about earlier in the book.

It’s a well-written and clever book, but the tone’s a bit sad and depressing because it deals a lot with the loss and regrets that all adults have over what gets left behind as you move through life. I might have liked it more if I hadn’t just read Super Sad True Love Story, which also dealt a lot with the down side of aging. The two books also share a similarity in depicting a future state where smart phones and constant communication have changed society. (This one is mostly set in the past and present with only a couple of sections in the futue.) So while I liked this, I got a bit of a been-there/done that flavor when reading it, and I think I hit depression overload somewhere in the middle of this.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,565 followers
July 14, 2020
Taking home the Pulitzer, it's clear to me what type of novels are favored: the novels deemed fresh and classic simultaneously. Like "Olive Kitteridge" or "The Interpreter of Maladies", this is a novel made up of short stories, all of them vivid anecdotes of people surrounding the music industry (as in musicians, roadies, fans, relatives... etc.) in precise clear-cut slivers of everyday life. Jennifer Egan's prose is exciting, her method of bleeding one story onto the next, of building up these, what Mario Vargas Llosa so eloquently calls, "communicating vessels," is a true feat. There is an avalanche effect of moods and tones, which is why the last story, perhaps not the best in the bunch, carries with it the hefty stigma of all those that came before it. I also really enjoyed a whole chapter displayed in Power Point format. The span of years seems negligible, for the feeling of youth & life is expertly crystallized.

Enjoyable, a bit chaotic, & certainly not tame. (I mean, even the theme of rock and roll exuberance is interesting in itself.) A sprinkle of Bret Easton Ellis (I mean, the good kind) alongside other "voices of the Zeitgeist"... & you have a very clever, winning book.
Profile Image for Aldrin.
56 reviews252 followers
September 1, 2017
There are two paragraphs in Jennifer Egan’s new book, A Visit from the Goon Squad , that heavily hint on its fundamental theme but were not at all written by the author. One is the book’s epigraph, taken from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: “Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.” The other is a note at the back of the book regarding the typeface used, supposedly written by the book’s typesetter: “The text of this book was set in Electra, [a face that] cannot be classified as either modern or old style. It is not based on any historical model, nor does it echo any particular period or style. It [...] attempts to give a feeling of fluidity and power.” These two extraneous blocks of words could not be more apt in drawing attention to the single intrinsic element of the novel contained between them that, already, unrelentingly makes its authority over the characters known to the reader page after mesmerizing page. That element is none other than time, the cruel visitor of the title as referred to in an aphorism half remembered (or perhaps wholly invented) by a character in the twilight of his life and career. “Time’s a goon, right? Isn’t that the expression?” he asks. “I’ve never heard that,” another troubled character answers. “Would you disagree?” “No.” 

In Goon Squad, time is also a prankster complicit in an elaborate trick masterminded by the book’s author herself, who goes as far as naming one of her characters after the personification of time in Greek mythology, Chronos. Egan's novel is certainly not of the time travel science fiction sort, but its clever use of a nonlinear timeline of all-too-real events is evocative of one that is. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five quickly comes to mind. Like poor Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's novel, the characters in Goon Squad are also, in a manner of speaking, “unstuck in time.” However, given that Goon Squad is decidedly non-science-fictional, they are not by nature predisposed to travel through time and randomly jump from one event in their lives to another as Billy Pilgrim insists he is. It’s Egan who does the unsticking. Although her abrupt transitions to different events, one of which happens in 1973 while another takes place in the 2020s, occasionally generate obvious and disruptive seams in the narrative, she still effectively and eloquently tells her characters’ mostly tragic stories out of sequence and convention and generously gives paragraph-long glimpses of their past and future selves. 

The novel swoops back and forth through time as it focuses on certain events in the lives of a bevy of major and minor characters created by Egan. But lest a potential reader be turned off by this unconventional chronology which some may interpret as nothing more than another unessential postmodern gimmick that requires more effort than usual, it should be noted that Egan is both considerate and smart enough to drop one or two temporal clues within each chapter of her novel, so that when, say, the central character of one chapter is said to lie about her age in her online profiles, one learns almost instantly that that chapter is set around the time of Facebook and so-called social media, i.e., the present. Most of these clues are easy enough to decipher in a jiffy, while others are less straightforward, requiring a bit of mental arithmetic and recognition of allusions to characters and occurrences in earlier and even later chapters/years. 

Among the story’s long dramatis personae, a few characters stand out and appear in two or more chapters although each is made the focus of only one. There’s Sasha, introduced in the very first chapter as nothing short of a mess: in a session with her therapist in New York City, she relates how she, while on a casual date, succumbed to another episode of kleptomania and stole a wallet in a restaurant bathroom. There’s Sasha’s boss, Bennie Salazar, divorced and all but estranged from his son, impotent and inclined to look at her assistant’s breast as some sort of a barometer for his erectile dysfunction. There’s Bennie’s brother-in-law, Jules Jones, a struggling writer imprisoned for attempting to rape a Hollywood starlet. They are but three of the twenty- or thirty-odd interconnected characters that inhabit the novel, which for all one knows is actually a short story collection that happens to employ a number of recurring characters. 

But to dismiss Goon Squad as merely a squad of short stories is to strip it of its underlying theme of redemption and reconnection. True, many of the chapters here would be right at home in the pages of The New Yorker and other high-end literary publications. Also, one is free to read the stories in no particular order, similar to putting a digital album or playlist on shuffle, perhaps cracking the book open in the middle and proceeding to read another story a couple of chapters away from the previous one, thus compounding the obliqueness of the novel’s storyline. But so long as the book is completely traversed, its grip should be easily felt and its message appreciated.

It’s no wonder then that the book’s format resembles that of a record album. Its chapters are divided into parts A and B, clearly inspired by the A and B sides of vinyl records and audio cassettes, the analog music storage media of yore. Indeed, music, like time, plays a major role in Goon Squad. Here it serves as a sort of sanctuary to the characters. Often, it affords them, beyond the desultory trips down memory lane, a strong sense of being. Sasha writes on her list of realistic goals, “Find a band to manage” and “Practice the harp,” sandwiching “Understand the news” and “Study Japanese.” Bennie, who is in fact a record producer, is transported back to when he and his high school friends were carefree sixteen-year-olds after listening to a couple of his old favorite bands in his car. Jules gets a new lease in life and gets to cover a musician’s last tour.

Whereas time is a goon, here (and presumably elsewhere) music is an ally, even as the latter is nothing if not for the former. Don’t records, cassettes, and CDs normally play clockwise as though to indicate the passage of time? Doesn’t the timestamp on a digital music player continue to increment even when there’s a considerably long pause in the currently playing track? And when one is made to think of a certain period, isn’t the kind of music that thrived during that period among the first things that come to one’s mind? Conversely, when one listens to an old favorite song, doesn’t one immediately think of the important events in one’s life that occurred around the time that song was released? 

Goon Squad doesn’t necessarily pose these seemingly trifling questions. Rather, what it does, after telling the stories of Sasha, Bennie, Jules, and the other musically inclined characters through a polyphonic pastiche of styles that include first-person narration, journalistic reportage, and most notably PowerPoint (yes, PowerPoint), is to make one ask oneself an important question so that one may be encouraged to take stock of one's life so far and maintain or regain one’s purchase on it. This question echoes a line from a famous Radiohead song: "What the hell am I doing here?"
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews812 followers
September 3, 2017
This novel snaked through my filters--put in place to keep me from wasting time reading books I'll likely abandon and pin with one-star reviews I really don't like to give--due to the following:

1. Unanimously positive critical reviews
2. Promise of electrifying writing or storytelling (see #1)
3. Fantastic title
4. Author, whose work I've never read, endorsed a petition in May 2016 in protest of the current president along with 450 other authors

The positive vibe didn't last long.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan begins with a New Yorker bored enough with her work as an executive assistant to a record company mogul to get her kicks as a kleptomaniac. She's bored on her date with a colleague. They go back to her place and have boring sex; off page (boring!). They never see each other again--too bored. The klepto's psychiatrist is bored by her problems. The mogul is bored by life and spikes his coffee with gold (metal) flakes. He visits with an all-sisters rock band in the suburbs that has gone nowhere in five years, but he's bored by them. He makes a pass at his assistant, but she's too bored by him for her to respond.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but the reaction I had trying to turn 38 pages of this novel was ... boredom. At the beginning of any book, fiction or non-fiction, adult literature or children's book, I'm primed for anything. The author has my permission to book me an all-expenses paid trip to anyplace in their imagination. Egan sent me to New York with some of the dullest upwardly mobile do-nothing think-nothing taking up dead space adults I've ever met in a novel. I know plenty more of this type of novel are out there, but I usually avoid reading them.

I don't enjoy reading about successful urbanites and their problems. Many readers do, but this isn't for me. I felt like the glimmer of life support in the early going here was the all-sisters rock band struggling to get anywhere, but Egan isn't writing about a girl rock band. She's writing about the miserably bored adults surrounding rock bands. Before I turned into one of them myself, I abandoned the book, probably my least favorite of those that have garnered near universal acclaim since Annihilation
Profile Image for Nikki.
494 reviews123 followers
February 15, 2017
This book felt so transparent to me. I could feel her writing and thinking and smirking and patting herself on the back. Normally, I have no problem with that. I love arrogant people when the arrogance is earned. But these stories didn’t ring true for me. They felt staged and cute and show-offy. “Oh, look what I can do. I can write a chapter in the second person for no reason and another one in PowerPoint and another one in cyber-gibberish. And I can connect a bunch of simplistic but oh-so-quirky characters together and have them do unbelievable things because I created this faux world with the power of my mind (and caffeine) and you will love it because it includes every issue and theme that has ever existed in the history of the world while also being about nothing, which is to say, the beauty and tragedy of life but much more of the tragedy because that’s what wins awards.”

This book mostly merits a shrug.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
August 8, 2021
I’ve been reading the reviews of this one. Five star raves and one star tongue lashings all over the place. Maybe someone has spiked my tea with serotonin reuptake inhibitors because whilst I couldn’t find it within my heart to hate it, nor yet could I summon up the energy to love it that much neither.
(So this is Mr Wishy Washy here, calling from England. How are you? I am so-so. In fact I am so so-so I have forgotten what it’s like to be not so so-so. )

But it’s okay. If this book was a Stones single it would be "Tumbling Dice" (1972) – a mid-paced nothing of a tune that’s produced so well you think you like it when it comes on. Well, is there any difference between thinking you like something and actually liking it? So, there you are then. While I was reading this I thought I liked it.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
September 16, 2019
Dubliners for the Digital Age.

Whereas Joyce used naturalistic prose to depict a specific time and place, Dublin, Ireland in the early twentieth century, author Jennifer Egan uses the same style and perspective to describe life in the late twentieth century, early twenty first century. Also like Joyce, Egan has structured her work into a series of loosely connected short stories, though Egan’s novel, or collection of short work, is more narratively connected than the earlier work. Likewise, Egan’s novel features a cast of dozens of characters who collectively add depth and personality to an already entertaining presentation.

53rd & 3rd

This was a virtuoso performance. This was like Ali vs. Liston, a devilishly simple looking knockout. This was Jimi at Monterey, flipping it upside down, reversing the strings and playing it left handed. This was badass.

Egan uses the vibrant, feral power of punk rock to add spice and contextual verve to her design. The entire book is connected to media and entertainment, whereby Egan demonstrates the omnipresent effect of our information age connectivity.

Been Caught Stealing

One of the main characters, recurring in more than one chapter or vignette, struggles with anti-social behavior including kleptomania. While several characters deal with and strive against behavior disorders of various complexity, this inclusion is important for Egan’s worldview which examines with a critical eye our global culture’s fixation with the materialistic and publicity mindedness.

My Generation

The title comes from the idea of time as a goon, a hired muscle who comes to inflict pain. So a visit from the good squad is to get beat up by time, an appointment we all have coming sooner or later.

While Egan is sensitive to and observant of different generational identities, her central examination is of how the overlapping generations of our multi-cultural, pluralistic society works together in a dynamic group identity.

Egan’s loosely connected narrative structure is reminiscent of David Mitchell, with it’s layered together detail. The fragile family ties with the ever present specter of self destruction and mortality casting a shadow over all, along some very slick and inventive stream of consciousness sections (one chapter was presented as a power point slideshow) is evocative of an updated and rebooted The Sound and the Fury.

Celluloid Heroes

Much of the book revolves around the recording industry but there is also mention of Hollywood, literature and publicity. Entertainment. Egan shows how our Western culture has invaded, infected and absorbed much the rest of the world. Not altogether critical, Egan does show how media, especially music, can be a defining and unifying vehicle; but the more memorable observation is for the superficial and divisive nature of celebrity.

It’s a Small World After All

Finally, A Visit from the Goon Squad, calling on a scene from a realizable and recognizable near future, demonstrates how transportation and media has, for good and bad, made the world’s borders shrink and contract.

The connectedness of the book’s many characters and the bringing together of a multiplicity of cultures, times and places shows there may be hope for us after all.

Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
405 reviews2,201 followers
April 25, 2017
"...it may be that a crowd at a particular moment in history creates the object to justify its gathering... ...or it may be that two generations of war and surveillance had left people craving the embodiment of their own unease in the form of a lone, unsteady man on a slide guitar."

I loved it. It wasn't a light read, even though it's fairly short. It had a unique format that works equally well as both a collection of short stories and a novel. It's a pretty gutsy narrative that requires some mental work from the reader to keep all of the characters and time shifts tight, but it's worth the effort. More focused on character than story.

You don't usually see this sort of structure outside of the Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction world. It's nice to see some unique writing winning large awards.
Profile Image for Guille.
757 reviews1,553 followers
November 8, 2021
Una novela llena de grandes aciertos. El primero, la elección de su estructura en capítulos que pueden funcionar como piezas independientes. Desprenderse de los corsés de las novelas al uso le ha permitido a la autora dar una visión mucho más amplia de todo este tiempo nuestro que seguramente habría dificultado mucho unas exigencias de tiempo y espacio y un seguimiento convencional de los personajes... al menos con el mismo número de páginas.

Sí, este libro puede ser considerado como un conjunto de relatos, pero es más potente cuando se entiende como lo que realmente es, una novela, una muy buena novela que plantea muchos y variados problemas vitales, situaciones que nos son muy cercanas y actuales (puede que algo más a los que formamos parte de una generación, digámoslo suavemente, madura) y que nos son contadas con una aparente ligereza, sin rodeos pero también sin atajos, sin pedanterías y sin ninguna intención moralizante (o, lo que también sería digno de elogio, teniéndola sin que lo parezca mucho).

Por supuesto, uno de esos grandes problemas, el gran canalla protagonista que atraviesa todos los relatos, es el tiempo, aunque en su descargo no hay que olvidar que es un canalla que nunca actúa solo. En este sentido, esos saltos temporales donde observamos a los protagonistas en un punto temporal A y, sin transición, en algún momento posterior o anterior o punto B (metáfora que, a modo de estribillo, se repite alguna que otra vez en el libro), relatados además desde puntos de vista distintos y con modos diferentes, logran de una forma espléndida subrayar en verde fosforito lo patético que es darse cuenta tarde de que "la vida realmente iba en serio".

Y sí, podemos decir con Egan que "la nostaliga es el fin", pero, de verdad, sin acritud alguna, Egan, ¿era necesario preguntarnos con ese desdén, con esa superioridad insolente, aquello de pero tú te acuerdas siquiera de cuando tenías nuestra edad? Joder, Egan, quién no ha tenido en infinidad de ocasiones la sensación de haber pasado de A a B sin apenas transición (vale, vale, sigo con mi crisis).

Y sobre el final de nuestro tiempo, del de cada uno de nosotros, pues eso, que…
"El tiempo es el mejor autor; siempre encuentra el final perfecto" (Charles Chaplin).
Profile Image for Kinga.
476 reviews2,200 followers
September 7, 2013
The older I get the harder it is for any book to get on my special-place-in-my-heart shelf. The last time I found myself raving about a book as if it was the Second Coming of Christ was when I read Evening is the Whole Day in December 2009. Either I have been reading lots of so-so books lately or I have become jaded.

Luckily, here comes this book to prove to me I am not as indifferent as I would like to believe myself to be.

Another thing this book proves is that you can have a best selling collection of short stories, as long as you pretend they are a novel. Short stories seem to be perfectly suited to our current busy lifestyles and short attention spans. It's baffling they are pushed off the literary mainstream, and judging by this book's success, it seems to be some unexplainable prejudice. After all, this book is just a collection of loosely connected episodes that could (and have been) easily published as stand alone stories.

The appeal of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" lies in its treatment of passing time and growing old, of how people go from being the protagonists to barely mentioned secondary characters. These are all things we know about but we don't like to think about. The delicate way in which Egan presents the inevitability of all of them makes it a very sad, melancholic, and bitter-sweet read. This book is also about rock'n'roll because music is one of those things that were always better when we were young.

No matter how accomplished and powerful the character, he or she will eventually get pushed aside and left to reminisce. This is the most powerful and important message that this book delivers. However, it doesn't leave you completely hopeless. It uses a beautiful metaphor of pauses in rock'n'roll songs. Just when you think it's all over, the song comes back on after a couple seconds for its one last hurrah.

I have read a few negative reviews (most notably Sarah Aswell's one) and while I see where they are coming from, I must say this book did it for me. It was so true that all I could do was sigh for two reasons. One, because we're all gonna die, two, because there is no way I could ever write anything this powerful.

Time is a goon and life is a bitch, eh?
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
June 10, 2015
I have never read Jennifer Egan before. I had no expectations for this book except that it carried the caveat of Pulitzer Prize Winner. The book as it turns out is really a series of interlocking stories. A minor character in one chapter may be the main character in the next chapter. I thought Egan locked these stories together seamlessly making for an enjoyable quick read.

I found myself reflecting on my own life, the trials and tribulations of these characters certainly struck a nerve with me and from what I've read with many other readers as well. I took chapter breaks to let the implications of that chapter settle in my brain before I would take up the next piece of the puzzle. I got to say I'm really impressed with the structure of this novel and also the cleanness of the writing, at no time did the book seem to bog down.
134 reviews197 followers
January 14, 2011
Probably not Egan's fault that I didn't love this one -- I'm starting to think it's impossible for me to get behind any novel with this kind of pointillist structure. Maybe I'm more aesthetically conservative than I thought I was, because this year I've read two ecstatically praised novels that use this piecemeal approach (the other being David Mitchell's Ghostwritten) and found it difficult to give a fuck about either of 'em. The idea, I guess, is that the individual fragments add up to a greater thematic or narrative gestalt that can be observed by standing further away. But this distance seems to me antithetical to the purpose of the novel, which is supposed to be all about close engagement with a set of imagined lives and/or events. Not that I want to be prescriptive about this sort of thing, or even use phrases like "the purpose of the novel," because what do I know? But it just feels too often like a case of literary ADD. Mike Reynolds says Goon Squad is "definitely a novel," but doth he protest too much? The fact that Mike even feels compelled to make this assertion tells you that it is not "definitely" anything. (Gives me an idea for the paperback: instead of the customary "A Novel" ID underneath the title, Knopf should go with "Definitely A Novel.") This is really a story collection, I think, and I'm vaguely perturbed by the trend of slapping the "novel" label on interrelated story cycles; if they were first published today, would In Our Time or Winesburg, Ohio be pushed as novels? I'm all for the malleability of forms, but I'm also for truth in advertising. So I dunno.

And so, like any story collection, some of the stuff in Goon Squad is better than some of the other stuff -- though Egan's crisp, satisfying prose can be found throughout. Like everyone else, I loved the powerpoint chapter, excerpts from a 12-year-old girl's "slide journal," as moving as it is formally innovative. Also wonderful is the first-person account by a David Foster Wallace-esque journalist of a celebrity interview gone horribly awry. But another piece, co-starring the same celebrity, struck me as so wildly implausible that I kept waiting for it to be revealed as a fiction-within-the-fiction (no such luck); and an Almost Famous-ish section about rockin' '70s teenagers was hideously over-voiced, a fault that also occasionally tripped up Egan's otherwise deeply entertaining The Keep. It's like, I know you want to create a convincing teen-girl voice, but replacing the verb "to say" with the verb "to go" in every single instance of that verb just comes off as a distracting authorial contrivance. And some of the units, like one involving an African safari (which Mike cites as one of his favorites) might have really worked for me in the context of a proper story collection, but in the context of a novel -- with all its attendant expectations, even in non-linear fragment form -- it felt inessential. So labels do matter, I think, and this book has the wrong label. But of course there is plenty of wonderful writing here, many juicy sentences of wit and insight and elegance that jolted me out of my macro-disappointment; I'm still on Team Egan, and I appreciate her continuing efforts to engage meaningfully with the more disconcertingly salient aspects of contemporary culture. Sometimes the strings show a little too much -- the final chapter (which I basically like) strays perilously close to essayism, and doesn't seem to understand how text messaging works -- but I'm down with any writer these days who tries to chronicle The Way We Live Now without being a dick about it.

Update: I'm officially the only person who does not love this book, so I am floating to assert my independence. Shine on, you crazy me.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,189 followers
July 16, 2012
One At a Time

The thirteen chapters of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" are like lily pads on a pond.

They encapsulate the lives of a group of people, a community, a human ecosystem, over a period of 50 years (only it doesn’t seem like that long).

We start on the pad nearest to us (which is not necessarily the present or the most recent story), then we look around and jump onto the other pads, one at a time, each choice made for us by Jennifer Egan, but not necessarily dictated by any apparent particular order.

She could very easily have chosen a different order. However, in a way, the order doesn’t matter.

What matters is that, by the time we’ve finished, we’ve landed on all of the pads, checked them out, learned something and moved on.

In the process, we’ve accumulated detail, we’ve experienced the whole of the pond, we’ve got to appreciate the whole of the ecosystem.

Now, at our leisure, we can process the detail of our experience.

We can impose order on our experience, if that is what we desire.

It’s About Time

To this extent, "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is a post-modern novel that forces us to reassess our preconceptions about literary narrative and story-telling.

Conventional literature seems to be preoccupied with chronological order.

Temporal order (as opposed to chaos) requires chronology.

We’ve come to expect that a narrative will proceed from the past to the present in chronological order.

If we start in the present, in present tense, we will move to the future chronologically.

Even if we start in the past and the novel is narrated in the past tense, we expect the novel to be chronological from its point of origin.

This creates the illusion that we live the present, and we relive the past, in strictly chronological order.

However, no matter how pervasive the illusion, literature does not actually mimic life when it comes to the sequence or order of perception and experience.

Every person is a combination of the past, the present and the future. Yet we do not follow a linear sequence.

I will never know you and you will never know me in chronological order.

In reality, to the extent that something of our past has been preserved, it is placed on a mental shelf in no particular order. It’s just added to what is already there somewhere, anywhere that it fits, like data on a hard drive.

Fortunately, some faculty in our mind, our memory, can access and recall our past, however incompletely or inaccurately.

One consequence is that, in our social interactions with each other, we don’t necessarily communicate in chronological order.

We reveal our past selectively, and what we select is dictated by relevance, not time.

Even when we are together in the present, we must part company or divert our gaze, until one day (another time) we come back to each other to complete the picture.

Our experiences, our chronology as lived will always be broken, piecemeal, dislocated, even if our minds subsequently and retrospectively impose chronological order on our experiences when we remember them.

Power Poignant Presentation

This is how Jennifer Egan tells her stories.

Her characters are just as broken, dislocated, damaged and real as those of Jonathan Franzen in “The Corrections”.

Her narrative rebels against chronology as she methodically excavates her characters from the site in which they have been buried.

She also uses postmodern techniques like footnotes (a la David Foster Wallace), both self-consciously and humorously.

She supplies us 75 pages of the future in the form of a slide journal prepared by the 12 year old daughter of one of the protagonists.

Despite its juvenile and unadorned prose, it contains some of the most poignant insights into the characters and their environment.

Still, they’re not difficult stories, they’re real stories about real people doing real things.

Arguably, her stories are more real, because of the way she tells them.

They might also be more memorable, not just because we have to make an effort (relative to a chronological exposition), but because we access the past of these characters in the same way we would access and recall our own memories.

There’s a Time and a Place for Everything

Egan uses two separate quotes from Proust as the epigraphs to her novel.

One argues that it is a “most hazardous pilgrimage” to seek the Self that we were in the past in a physical place (e.g., a house or a garden where we used to live during our youth).

He cautions that we will not find the Self there, because this place is no longer in the past, it is in the present and, therefore, the actual place is now different to what we recall.

The place that reflects our Selves in the past can only be in our minds, which is where Proust suggests we look for whatever it is we are seeking.

We have to look inwardly to “find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years”.

It is we who are the repository of our past, because our minds are the repository of our memories.

In a way, writing about it preserves the memories and therefore it preserves the past.

It protects experiences against the ephemerality of time, even if the characters are fictional.

Memories That Turn Up Just in Time

We think of these memories as records of time and times past.

We exist just in time. Our memories exist just in time.

Yet, it’s arguable that there is no such thing as time.

It’s a product of our minds. It has no mass. It does not move. It creates the illusion that it passes, but its apparent passage can only be measured by changes in something else, the movement of a hand on the face of an analogue watch or the elapse of the numbers on a digital clock. (1)

What actually exists is change, the process of addition to or subtraction from something more material or concrete. (2)

We are like an onion that, with each experience, adds another layer.

Yet, in the case of the mind, each layer eventually merges with the whole.

There are no separate layers that can be peeled one from another.

There is no chronological record of when the memory was created, only the memory itself.

Each memory is a replica of a place, of an experience located or situated within that place.

Collectively, our experiences could be captured and encapsulated and preserved in the amber of our memory (perhaps not eternally, but certainly not immediately dripping ephemeral to the ground and disappearing forever).

If so, we could find Proust’s “fixed places, contemporaneous with different years”, in our minds.

We could slice open the metaphorical onion and spread its component parts across the cutting board.

As with the lily pads, we could explore and inspect each component part in a sequence of our own choosing.

What we would find within ourselves is not time, let alone lost time, but (in the plural) lost times, good times, bad times, preserved experiences.

We would find, not Time, but Experiences.

Time is a Goon

In the words of Bosco, one of Egan’s lesser characters, time is a goon. (It’s not a particularly elegant allusion. Apart from its literal meaning, it seems designed only to reference the Elvis Costello song. (3))

While we are preoccupied with something else, sometimes real life goons, time turns up unexpected and mugs us.

Only then do we realise that we have less time left to us than we thought.

We don’t recognise how precious time is. We take it for granted.

In truth, time is the measure of the rate at which we approach death, the point at which we cease to experience.

Death is inevitable, yet its challenge to us is to fill the time available with experience and experiences.

They in turn constitute our memories and, collectively, our culture.

Giving Time Some Pause

One of the unique pop cultural references in the novel is its list of pauses in songs.

Within the framework of the novel, a pause delays the song’s end and prolongs its life.

By believing that the song has ended, only to find out that there is more to come, we have somehow cheated death, albeit temporarily.

We have eked more out of life than we might otherwise have.

A Memory Dead and Buried in Time

Just as a pause suspends the passage of time, a memory of the past is nothing until it is remembered. It is effectively dead, or at least dormant or hibernating, until it is retrieved.

In the text that immediately follows the first section quoted by Egan, Proust counsels us to dig into our past and explore our memories:

“We will see just how much certain fugitive, fortuitous impressions lead us more successfully towards the past, with a finer precision, a lighter flight, more immaterial, more vertiginous, more infallible, more immortal, than these organic dislocations.”

By digging, we will rescue the past from death and revive it.

We will perpetuate it in the eternity of the present, which is all that we can know and experience.

Recognising the Unknown

Egan’s first quote from Proust concerns the Self.

Her second is more concerned with the lives of Others, our family members, our friends, our community.

Other people will remain a mystery. We can reduce the unknown, but we cannot abolish it.

As readers, we learn a lot about Egan’s characters, but they remain partially unknown to each other.

Sometimes, we wish that they could see what we can see to be obvious, but it is impossible. We have a privileged perspective, a wider gaze.

We might think that technology and social networks will increase the known and decrease the unknown, but we all retain our secrets, some personal mystery, a kernel that cannot be known or understood by others.

This unknown might constitute some element of privacy in our relationships with government and corporations, but it can frustrate communication, understanding and harmony within our peer group.

As long as we do not completely understand each other, there will remain scope for incomprehension, dispute and disharmony.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Some of Egan’s characters die, some give birth, some do things they would prefer not to remember, some can't forget, some win, some lose, some suffer, some prevail, though in one form or other they all love, they all play.(4)

Meanwhile, the goons of time and death are everpresent in their lives.

Ultimately, however, Egan wants us to realise that it is we, her audience, who are being visited by the goon squad.

They come knocking on our door, too.

No Present Like the Time

They are not to be feared.

Without them, we would not hear Egan reminding us that our minds are a repository filled with memories and experiences, and that we have lived life the fullest who have most filled our minds.

So, ultimately, the message from the Goon Squad, Egan's message (like Proust's), is that we must remember to enjoy life. (5),(6)


(1) We use a second hand to measure what we experience first hand. [Thanks to Jenn(ifer) for reminding me about "Time after Time", from which I conjured up this idea.]

(2) The fundamental things apply as time goes by.

(3) Note the following lyrics: "They want you to come out to play/You'd better say goodbye"; "And you must find the proper place/For everything you see"; "I fit in a little dedication/With one eye on the clock." MJ has also reminded me that the expression "goon squad" also appeared in David Bowie's song, "Fashion".

(4) They play as time goes by.

(5) How nice you remembered.

(6) Or: We must remember, to enjoy life.



1. Found Objects (Sasha 2008)

2. The Gold Cure (Bennie 2008)

3. Ask Me If I Care (Rhea 1979 - 1980)

4. Safari (Charlie 1973)

5. You (Plural) (Jocelyn 1999)

6. X's and O's (Scotty 1997)


7. A to B (Stephanie 2001)

8. Selling the General (Dolly 2001)

9. Forty-Minute Lunch (Jules 1994)

10. Out of Body (Rob Freeman 1992)

11. Goodbye, My Love (Ted 1990)

12. Great Rock and Roll Pauses (Alison 202-)

13. Pure Language (Alex 2016)


Sasha: troubled, pickpocket, relationship with Alex, works for Bennie for 12 years, marries Drew, mother of Alison

Bennie: Indie music entrepreneur, inspired by Lou Kline, father to Chris

Rhea: friend of Jocelyn and Alice

Alice: loves Scotty, loved by Bennie

Jocelyn: has relationship with older Lou Kline

Lou Klein: Music entrepreneur, mentor to Bennie, has relationship with Jocelyn, father to Rolph

Rolph: Lou Klein's son, same age as Rhea, Jocelyn and Alice, dies in 1990

Scotty: guitarist in the Flaming Dildos

Stephanie: Bennie's second wife, works for La Doll/Dolly

Jules: entertainment journalist/writer, Stephanie's older brother, "rapes" Kitty Jackson, goes to jail for five years, writes book about Bosco

Bosco: guitarist in the Conduits, Suicide Tour, subject of Jules' book

Dolly (La Doll): publicist, Lulu's mum, advises General B and Kitty Jackson

Lulu: Bennie's assistant, Dolly's daughter, marries Joe (son of African from safari)

Kitty Jackson: Hollywood actress

Rob Freeman: loved Sasha, friend of Drew's, drowns in East River

Ted: Sasha's uncle

Alex: relationship with Sasha, married to Rebecca, works freelance with Bennie

Drew: friend of Rob's, doctor, Sasha's husband, Alison and Lincoln's dad

Alison: Sasha and Drew's daughter, creates slide journal

Lincoln: Sasha and Drew's son, loves rock and roll pauses


The Lemonheads - "It’s About Time":


The Only Ones - "Another Girl, Another Planet":


Elvis Costello and the Attractions - "Goon Squad" (from the 1979 album "Armed Forces"):


Todd Rundgren - "I Saw the Light" (from the 1973 album "Something/Anything?")"


Todd Rundgren and Daryl Hall - "I Saw the Light" (live duet version from 2011):


Yo La Tengo - "I Saw The Light" (Live):


Cyndi Lauper - "Time After Time":


Miles Davis - "Time after Time":


New Order - "This Time Of Night":


Gorillaz vs Crystal Castles - "Good Time":


The Guess Who - "No Time" (Extended Version):


Frank Sinatra vs Casablanca - "As Time Goes By":


Casablanca - "As Time Goes By" - Original Song by Sam (Dooley Wilson):


IMDb: "During the piano sequences with Dooley Wilson in "Casablanca", Elliot Carpenter played the piano just offscreen, while Dooley fingered the keyboard on camera."

Play it once, Sam. Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By":


Damien Rice - "The Blower´s Daughter":


Glen Campbell - "By the Time I Get to Phoenix":


Nick Cave - "By the Time I Get to Phoenix":


The Seekers - "Time and Again":


Pink Floyd - "Comfortably Numb":


Pink Floyd - "Time":


"The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say."

David Bowie - "Fashion" (from the 1980 album "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)"):


"We are the goon squad and we're coming to town, beep-beep."


BBC Interview with Jennifer Egan:


"Clearmountain pauses" and "violations of expectation"

Jennifer Egan on the best pauses in rock music:


Great Rock and Roll Pauses:


13 songs with videos on the book's website

The Strokes - "Hard to Explain"


Great pause at 2:06.

The Four Tops - "Bernadette":


Short pause at 2:38.

"Once Egan had learned a little more about the function that pauses can serve in songs, she "fell in love with Closing Time all over again," she said. But her all time favourite rock and roll pause? "The song Bernadette by The Four Tops," she said. "I feel like it's one of the original pauses. The name 'Bernadette' just comes roaring back after the pause, and it's so dramatic. In a way I feel like it created a template for the way pauses are used in rock songs. If you talk about pauses in songs, that's one that comes up a lot."

Semisonic - "Closing Time":


Great pause at [can someone find it for me?].

Egan's book was inspired by a pause in one song in particular: Closing Time by Semisonic. "The drummer from Semisonic, Jacob Slichter, wrote a fabulous book called So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, and he talks in detail about the recording of the song," Egan said. "And the producer was a guy named Bob Clearmountain who is known for inserting pauses into songs for dramatic effect."

Clearmountain is so well known for this practice that the songs he's worked on are said to have "Clearmountain pauses."

"This idea lodged in my brain and I couldn't get rid of it," Egan said. "When I found myself working on a chapter in PowerPoint, it very quickly came to me that this was where I would end up using the pauses in the songs, but it wasn't until later that I realized that the reason for that was that PowerPoint itself is a form structured around moments separated by pauses."

Eels - "Novocaine For The Soul":


Fuckin' long pause at 1:29.

Matthew Sweet - "Girlfriend"


If they're not strictly pauses, I'll call it syncopation.

See 0:33, 1:08, 1:44, etc.

Some bloody brilliant guitar from Robert Quine, R.I.P.

Robert's father, Willard Van Orman Quine, a philosopher and logician, wrote a memoir called "The Time of My Life".

Robert's second cousin once removed is/was Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys.

Matthew Sweet - "Divine Intervention":


Fuckin' long fake fade-out at 4:38.

The Stone Roses - "I am the Resurrection":

Great pause at 5:23 followed by a fab rave outro.

Plus I love this band and I wear one of their T-shirts all the time (when I'm not wearing The Soundtrack of Our Lives). So there.

David Bowie - "Young Americans":


Possible short pause at 4:19. The book says it needs to be longer. I agree.
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,242 reviews2,257 followers
February 22, 2016
Time, you old Gypsy Man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

- Ralph Hodgson

“Time’s a goon, right?”

- Bosco, a character from
A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a unique book which defies analysis, probably because it breaks all conventions of storytelling. In fact, it does not tell a story at all. It tells many stories, not by traditional narration but by cameo glimpses into the intertwined life of a handful of characters connected with the rock and roll scene.

There is Sasha, kleptomaniac and former junkie; who is assistant to music producer Bennie, who is struggling with a failed marriage and an erectile dysfunction. There are Bennie’s rock-and-roll buddies, Rhea who’s in love with him; Alice, who he is in love with; Scotty, whom Alice loves; and Jocelyn, whom Scotty loves but who is having an affair with Lou, a middle-aged music producer who is married with kids. Then there are Lou’s children, Charlene and Rolph; Bennie’s former wife, Stephanie and her disturbed brother Jules, a journalist who has served time for the attempted rape of up-and-coming starlet Kitty Jackson.

There’s Dolly, publicist and Stephanie’s one-time employer whose career has collapsed after a disastrous party, and who is trying to restructure her life by promoting a South American dictator and her dead-serious daughter Lulu, who is currently working for Bennie. There is Rob, Sasha’s lover from her teenage years who commits virtual suicide by trying to swim in the East River while totally stoned. There is Ted Hollander, Sasha’s uncle on a mission to Naples to locate his niece who is wasting her life as a junkie and a hooker. There is Alex (who has spent a random night with Sasha once), who is trying to garner some unethical publicity for Bennie’s event featuring Scotty, trying to rejuvenate the failed careers of Bennie, Scotty and himself. And there are Sasha’s children, Lincoln who is slightly autistic and Alison…

…Plus a host of other characters, adding to a tapestry stretched out over time and space.

The novel (?) twists and turns in and out through the lives of these people, whose lives and destinies meet and intersect at various points. The structure (or lack of it) brings to mind Paul Haggis’ award-winning movie Crash: but whereas the movie is focussing on a single incident which brings together disparate people and all the events leading to it, the book lacks any such focus. It moves back and forth in time, sometimes breaking the conventions of traditional narrative. Consider the following passage:

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 know that in her world, Charlie is a child. Thirty-five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire. He’ll have 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 Plexiglas, directly under a skylight.

(Note the technique: time is suddenly telescoped, forcing the reader to lose focus and move back and survey the picture from a broader perspective. Also note the interesting fact that a major character, not yet formally introduced into the story [Lulu] makes an appearance here: it’s not clear on the first reading. In fact, this action happens outside the novel, and reinforces the impression the reader gets that he is only peeking into a cross-section of an enormously long and endless narrative, part of which is captured and laid out before him by the author.)

The chapters are more of standalone narratives rather than parts of a coherent whole-yet they are inherently connected. Each tells part of the story from the viewpoint of a different character; some (for example, the fourth one) from the viewpoint of multiple characters. The narrative is sometimes in the past tense, sometimes in the present: sometimes first person, sometimes third person and once (chapter ten), second person. And chapter twelve leaves linear narrative by the wayside altogether – it is a PowerPoint presentation (in fact, this presentation is the key to the novel – but more about that later)!

Two themes run through the novel – time, and music. And it does not take great cerebration to connect the two together. Music is essentially an art form which is sculpted in time (to borrow from Tarkowski) but unlike the narrative arts, it is non-linear, with themes spanning out and spreading forth. And the pauses are as important as the beats. This is the theme of chapter twelve, the presentation prepared by Alison, Sasha’s twelve-year-old daughter.

The presentation is about the Blake family in general, Sasha, her husband Drew, and children (Lincoln, who may be slightly autistic and Alison, who is the author of the presentation). It is titled: “Great Rock and Roll Pauses”. The presentation talks about many things: Alison’s quarrels with her mother, Lincoln’s inability to communicate, Sasha’s reluctance to revisit the memories of her youth… all analysed with respect to Lincoln’s obsession with the rest pauses in rock-and-roll songs.

Lincoln is interested in the pauses to such an extent that he times them to the microsecond and records and loops them again and again. He knows each of them by heart: the music is his only connection to the world. Drew is worried about it: he does not understand this obsession-while Sasha, more attuned to the world of music, does to a certain extent. But it is Allison who is perfectly in sync with her brother, and can trace the tortuous connection in his mind when he says “Hey Dad, there’s a partial silence at the end of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’, with a sort of rushing sound in the background that I think is supposed to be the wind, or maybe time rushing past!” in place of “I love you, Dad.” It is she who graphs his pauses, thus providing spatial representation to his sculptures in time.

The beats and the pauses, which together creates music as they flow through time, is applicable to human lives also… or so the novelist seems to tell. For the actual protagonist of this novel is time: at once the ephemeral moment and the eternal ocean. Time, which can be measured only while it flows, and gets consumed in the measurement. Time the goon, destroying empires and civilisations in its relentless march; time the healer, healing any wound, however deep it may be.

Many of the characters in the story talk about the “movement from A to B”, while describing how their lives have changed (many a time in unexpected ways) as they progressed in life. But on the wider canvas of the novel, it is soon apparent to the reader that the movement is illusory: it has no meaning outside the mind of the person experiencing it. I have always asked this question to myself: will time exist if there are no changes happening in the universe, and no memory to record its passing? The question has always remained tantalisingly unanswered.

The novel starts with Sasha on a one-night stand with Alex in New York City: fittingly, it ends with Alex in New York, looking for Sasha. Of course he does not find her – as Bennie hopes, she has found a good life.

Alex closed his eyes and listened; a storefront gate sliding down. A dog barking hoarsely. The lowing of trucks over bridges. The velvety night in his ears. And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.

th blu nyt
th stRs u cant c
th hum tht nevr gOs awy

A sound of clicking heels on the pavement punctured the quiet. Alex snapped open his eyes, and he and Bennie both turned – whirled, really, peering for Sasha in the ashy dark. But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys.

So time goes on.

Highly recommended, especially for those readers who enjoy the unconventional.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books411 followers
April 19, 2023
Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is (in)famous for its penultimate chapter, which is written as a PowerPoint presentation. While polarizing among reviewers, this is actually my favorite chapter in the book. I find it amazing how Jennifer Egan could capture such a wide range of emotions in a PowerPoint presentation, which centers on the intra-family dynamics of one of the main characters, Sasha. Her son, Lincoln, is autistic and obsessed with slight pauses in rock music, such as in "Young Americans" by David Bowie or "Supervixen" by Garbage. Lincoln is unable to articulate his emotions directly, but he does so through his obsession with pauses in his favorite songs. This obsession leads to my favorite quote of the novel, as Lincoln explains why he is so enamored with pauses:

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 actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.

This quote is also a metaphor for the lives of our two main characters, Sasha, and her record company boss, Bennie, who is also a former punk rocker. Rock music lionizes the young, and the relationship of the characters to the music business only exaggerates their inevitable aging. This brings me to my second-favorite quote for the book:

“Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.”

The novel is structured as a series of short stories that bounce around in time and perspective, some focusing on Sasha and Bennie and others providing a voice to several different side characters. The stories featuring Sasha and Bennie were by far my favorites. They are both such compelling characters in their good-hearted brokenness. The opening chapter tells the story of Sasha's kleptomania, and how she couldn't stop herself from stealing a wallet from a public restroom while on a date. The second story tells of Bennie's obsession with consuming gold flakes in his beverages as a very expensive panacea for all his troubles.

The stories that feature the side characters are less compelling. I would have preferred spending more time with Sasha and Bennie. Also, the stories kept shifting among first-, second-, and third-person narration for no apparent reason other than for Jennifer Egan to flex her narrative muscles. I really enjoyed this book but would have preferred a more consistent focus on the main characters.
Profile Image for René.
Author 10 books43 followers
September 3, 2012
What a bunch of crap.

A thing I find unbearable is the forced pathos of one-dimensional characters.

Take Benny, for instance. Benny can't get an erection. So he puts gold flakes in his coffee and stares at his assistant's tits with various degrees of discretion. We get it. Why then are we led through the ritual over and over? Benny starts his day with a coffee, stares at assistant's tits, self-scans and finds no erection. Later, in the car with the assistant, he stares at her tits. No reaction. But wait! Later, he's banging on a cowbell accompanying a rock band he might be signing (he's a music producer), stares at his assistant's tits and, lo and behold! Erection! We are thus given to understand that music is a big part of his erection process. But then, he has his erection shattered by shameful memories that assail him. So now we understand that his erectile dysfunction is a product of a failed marriage, failed relationships and disaffection for the music industry. The ageing music fan who feels that music was once grand and is now a lifeless aseptic hulk is a tired, fatigued cliché that I hoped I wouldn't encounter in this book, only to have it thrown in my face. Benny is just a hodge podge of music producer clichés. Divorced. Has a son who he would like to be close to but who remains distant.

As for his assistant, Sasha, she has her own first-world problem, a galloping kleptomania of which secret she only divulges to her shrink, Coz. She mentally spells out that she and Coz are writing a narrative together that ends with her being cured of kleptomania (never mind that this is the readers’ job, not the writers’), which is just another way of saying that Coz is a stand-in for the author, which is rather facile (and also cliché). Add to this that she only seems to come awake, sexually, when her partner is remotely aware of her stash of stolen goods. So her character is basically Benny, only younger and pretty (i.e. female cliché) while Benny is older, wilful and entrepreneurial (male cliché).

Then comes Rhea, who used to love Benny, and they were part of a punk band called the Flaming Dildos (wow, how long did it take to come up with that name?), and they went to concerts and they'd all dance near the stage and Rhea mentions that Benny was the only one who really listened to the music. How cute. Benny is special. Benny profoundly cares about music in the midst of a jaded generation of hedonistic party-goers.

This nauseating assembly of trite point-of-view fragments appears to hail from the we-live-in-new-york-and-make-lots-of-money-and-sleep-with-the-wrong-people-and-share-it-with-our-shrink school of literature and film. It’s basically a soap opera, wherein the reader is invited to keep track of who’s screwing who, and try to muster some form of reaction to it that somehow ignores the fact that this book is about people with, yes, I’ll say it again, first-world problems.

Oh sure, it has its’ share of divorces, suicides, betrayals, but the problems are self-inflicted, and I’d much rather be reading about people fighting real diseases than people succumbing to the psychological equivalent of auto-immune disorders.

Mostly though, the writing is terrible. The situations are forced, and there’s no depth or insight anywhere. And it’s fraught with clichés.

Take the following extract, about Lou (music producer) and Mindy (anthropology student) on a safari:

‘After his swim, Lou goes in search of spears and snorkelling gear, resisting his temptation to follow Mindy back to their room, though clearly she’d like him to. She’s gone bananas in the sack since they left the tents (women can be funny about tents) – hungry for it now, pawing off Lou’s clothes at odd moments, ready to start again when he’s barely finished. He feels tenderly toward Mindy, now that the trip is winding down. She’s studying something at Berkeley, and Lou has never travelled for a woman. It’s doubtful that he’ll lay eyes on her again.’

Sound schematic? The whole book is like that! Guess how this story ends? Lou marries Mindy, because though he was going to dump her, she made him jealous by eyeing another male. I had trouble reading it because I was rolling my eyes the whole time.

Are we ready for another example? Here goes, a history of a character Jules who’s a failed writer:

‘he’d gotten himself a job at Harper’s, an apartment on Eighty-first and York, and three roommates – two of whom now edited magazines. The third had won a Pulitzer.’

Not only is this blatantly schematic, it’s hardly believable. The writing style is contemporary, which could lull into an illusion of realism, if everything wasn’t so over-the-top, trading loudness for substance.

This is the eerie announcement that the worst of television has found its way into literature.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s one more example, about a rock-and-roll guitarist (everyone in this book is either a musician or screwing one or hoping to screw one):

‘Bosco was unrecognizable as the scrawny, stovepipe-panted practitioner of a late-eighties sound somewhere between punk and ska, a hive of redheaded mania who had made Iggy Pop look indolent onstage. More than once, club owners had called 911 during Conduits shows, convinced that Bosco was having a seizure.’

Forget, for a moment, the shameless (and lazy) name-dropping of Iggy Pop. Are we really supposed to believe that a club owner will see a guitarist being vigorous onstage and call 911 because it looks like a seizure? Are we further supposed to believe that this has happened multiple times?


Gimme a break.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews722 followers
September 29, 2019
Not quite sure how to rate this one, mixed feelings. It is an extraordinary work of interconnected stories going back and forth in time. About persons and how they evolve and develop over time. One story more appealing than the other, but an intriguing entirety at any rate. The ppt chapter, I thought… WTF, but I actually ended up liking it, a lot. It grew on me, turning the ‘slides’ and listening to the story of the daughter/sister in ppt environment. I loved the chapter about the uncle, looking for Sasha in Naples, something about the atmosphere, the persons and their stories… I don’t really know. It is a book of sadness and hope, mixed, for me. Very much a view into the heads and faces of persons. How they are, feel, act, over time. And how they are somehow connected. I had trouble recognizing the persons, like Scottie in the last chapter. But after a while. Oh… hey, it’s him. Part of the magic of this book and the realistic fact that I could not read this book in one haul. Hey, I’m a rock fan, that was part of the appeal of this book. And yes, the title, weird. Had to look up ‘goon’ in Wikipedia. It’s between 3 and four stars for me, but because of the uniqueness of the book, here’s four!
Profile Image for Laurel.
400 reviews181 followers
November 19, 2014
While I enjoy writing from time to time, I'm not an author. I wasn't an English major. I've never taken a creative writing course, nor read any books on how to write. Perhaps that's why I often struggle when I give a poor rating to a book that has received high critical acclaim. I mean, what do I know?

However, I rate books not so much on their literary merit, but on how much I enjoyed the book as a reader. I rate according to how engaged I was; how much I enjoyed the story, the characters, the thematic messages and the writing style.

That said, this book bored me. Maybe it just didn't work well on audio (Power Point, for example, is a visual medium). Or maybe I'm just feeling grumpy. But I didn't like any of these characters and I didn't care what happened to them. I didn't find the writing all that spectacular. It was creative, I suppose, but it felt gimmicky to me. While I appreciated the message, I didn't enjoy the way the author delivered it.

Perhaps I'll revisit it another time when I can read the print. But probably not. :)
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