The Time and The Times

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is truly like no other book I’ve ever read. I am in no way equipped or even daring enough to do any kind of review of it, except to marvel at the author’s ingenuity, skill, and sheer mastery of language.

The book feels like life itself — erratic, unpredictable, lush in detail, with loose ends that desperately need tying up. You get a sense of the inescapable blink-and-it’s-gone time passing, and of course, growing old in the process, despite fighting it consciously or unconsciously.

I will not dwell on the story; in fact, it’s a landscape that you can zoom into and zoom out of at will. The style is whimsical and edgy: chapters and characters are narrated in first person, second person, or third person, even Powerpoint slides and texting. The characters are so lucidly drawn — they rise, grow and morph before your eyes.

The language is an absolute delight, and I kept marvelling at every turn of phrase, so unique, so newly minted, so refreshing! I am so tempted to put down entire passages here that entranced me with their atmospheric vividness, but I’ll content myself with just a few smaller samples:

“Behind the desk was nothing but view — the whole city flung out in front of us the way street vendors fling out their towels packed with cheap, glittery watches and belts. That’s how New York looked: like a gorgeous, easy thing to have, even for me.”

“In the dusk, a chorus line of palm trees vamped against a Bellini sky.”

“It was teeming with families, kids punting the ubiquitous soccer balls, exchanging salvos of earsplitting Italian. But there was another presence, too, in the fading light: the aimless, unclean, vaguely threatening youths who trolled this city where unemployment was at 33 percent, members of a disenfranchised generation who slunk around the decrepit palazzi where their fifteenth-century forebears had lived in splendor, who shot dope on the steps of churches in whose crypts those same forebears now lay, their diminutive coffins stacked like cordwood.”

“Whatever the reason, a swell of approval palpable as rain lifted from the center of the crowd and rolled out toward its edges, where it crashed against buildings and water wall and rolled back at Scotty with redoubled force, lifting him off his stool, onto his feet (the roadies quickly adjusting the microphones), exploding the quavering husk Scotty had appeared to be just moments before and unleashing something strong, charismatic, and fierce. Anyone who was there that day will tell you the concert really started when Scotty stood up.”

Phew!

Though I’m a lover of simpler, linear narratives and straight stories, this book really floored me. Just loved it for giving me such a lovely window to a whole new world of writing.

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