Fans riding high from Jennifer Egan’s critically acclaimed The Keep have much to look forward to in her new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which turns away from the neo-gothic and mind-bending while retaining the unexpected humor and postmodern breadth of her earlier work.
At the book’s start, we drop in on the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging record executive, and Sasha, his aimless, kleptomaniac assistant. Sasha goes on a mediocre online date, while Bennie brings his nine-year-old son to see a band he has signed but knows he can’t break out. Then the narrative takes an unexpected turn, making great leaps in time and location to show us not only how these characters got to be the way they are (and flashing forward to what they will ultimately become), but the ways in which the ancillary players in their lives have touched and connected them. We meet Scotty, Bennie’s former bandmate from the Bay Area punk scene; Lou, the group’s self-destructive mentor who takes his children and young girlfriend on a trip to Africa; Rob, Sasha’s suicidal college friend who struggles with his own identity in the Internet’s early days; and Alex, Sasha’s date from the opening chapter, who goes on to see a world in which technology and music intertwine in surprising, though not implausible ways.
Chapters jump from first to third person, from heavily footnoted magazine articles to PowerPoint presentations, yet Egan’s scope remains simultaneously manic and highly controlled. Indeed, one gets the sense that she knows so much about her characters’ lives that she had the luxury of curating only the choicest moments for our reading pleasure, the result of which is a series of pastiches that deftly and lyrically illustrates the ways people and culture change, yet stay remarkably the same.