A Visit from the Goon Squad

This book kept rolling up on award lists and I thought it sounded kind of cool. Additionally, I needed some literature to round out the year, so I grabbed it. Yep, it’s lit. It won a few best book awards, including the Pulitzer. WAIT, don’t click on that yet! Watch the interview in the link after. That’s what I did. It’s better because there are some spoilers.

Trust me on this waiting thing; when things came together in the middle of the book, you want it to feel like something clicked, like something genuine.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

It’s a set of short stories that are loosely linked. Each story takes the perspective of one of an extended group of friends and acquaintances who are mostly connected, in some manner, to either Bennie or Sasha. The stories aren’t chronological and they don’t have any introductions. They do have somewhat of flow, and they all have some connection to the music industry, so you at least have something to hang your hat on.

Just be warned, this is not a standard novel. It’s not linear. I didn’t know that going in and I’m not sure if that made it more exciting or not. It certainly made it more mysterious and confusing until about the middle of the book.

At around half way, in a pivotal and highly memorable scene, the goon angle slaps you in the face. At this point things crystallize and this becomes a very meaningful book. It’s a memorable scene and still sticks in my mind for so many reasons. In it aging rocker Bosco plots his Suicide Tour and says, “Time’s a goon, right? Isn’t that the expression?”

I’ve never heard this expression. But as soon as I heard it something clicked: big theme of this book is the passage of time.

That Bosco story I just mentioned happens in the middle. Then, near the end, in a Powerpoint presentation by the daughter of the assistant (Sasha) of the record executive (Bennie) who’s wife Bosco was speaking to while her ex-con, writer brother (Jules Jones) nods in approval at the idea of a Suicide Tour (he wants to get the story), you find out this:

Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide by Jules Jones

Mom bought the book, but she never mentions it.

It’s about a rock star who wants to die onstage, but ends up recovering and owning a dairy farm.

There’s a picture of mom on page 128.

Yep, that’s how this book unfolds. It just skips forward or backward, depending on whatever. You have to draw the connections yourself and letting them reveal themselves is most of the fun. And yeah, that snippet above is actually in Powerpoint form. It’s chapter 12. The whole chapter is a Powerpoint presentation. Genius. It may be one of the coolest chapters in a book I’ve ever read – I was dumbstruck, moved, blown away, saddened, enlightened, overjoyed. It was a stack of Powerpoint slides. Seriously.

And to think, Jennifer Egan had never even used Powepoint until this chapter, which she added after the publisher agreed to publish it. Great stuff.

Read the book. Read this post. Watch the interview, in that order.