Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Jennifer Egan”

Janel’s #CBR4 Review 23 The Keep by Jennifer Egan

I didn’t mean to read two graphic novels back to back.  I picked up this book because I wanted to read  some backlist books of Jennifer Egan after reading A Visit From The Goon Squad.

I was confused at first why we kept going between two narrators and finally realized it was a story within a story.  I felt the last quarter of the book didn’t fit with the rest of the book.  The dialogue style was hard to adapt to and felt very play like,

When Danny visited the town outside of the castle, I was reminded of the movie The Truman Show where he finds out everything is scripted. I had a hard time believing some of the action in the plot -such as Danny falling in love with the baroness and surviving the fall from the tower.

Overall I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and really just finished the book to see what happened.

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #16, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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

In case it wasn’t obvious from the line above, the titular “Goon Squad” is a reference to time and its ravages. That line is really all you need to know about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. It’s a series of linked short stories, narrated by different people whose lives are intertwined in myriad ways. It’s essentially a more literary version of Love Actually, except instead of the central theme being love and how it actually is all around us, it is instead time, and how it fucks us all up.

In this form, Egan proves mostly adept. Her spun vignettes have the depth and tight pacing of stand-alone stories (three of them were published in the New Yorker before they appeared in Goon Squad), but where she sometimes slips up is how she puts those pieces together. While the common theme of time is echoed in various subtle and unsubtle ways throughout the all of the stories, the pacing between them can sometimes seem a bit jerky, the transitions abrupt. Logistically, it takes you out of the story because you have to flip back three chapters to check on a character’s name, or make sure of the chronology. Some chapters could have been left out entirely; I’m thinking specifically of the last chapter, which drifts suddenly into dystopian lit much as one might meander absentmindedly into a bad part of town. It’s narrated by Alex, whose character was only ever interesting enough to be a bit part in Sasha’s dating life, and none of its musings on the passing of time were significant. This bit of dystopian text-speak was particularly grating: “if thr r childrn, thr mst b a fUtr, rt?” Putting aside Egan’s profound misunderstanding of how texting works, this point and the chapter as a whole were so unsubtle, such a departure in tone from the rest of the novel, that I found myself doubting whether the stories I had read before were as good as I have given them credit for.

The truth is that many of them are. “Safari” was my favorite. Unsurprisingly, most of the chapters previously published in the New Yorker held up very well, probably because they were subjected to tougher editing than the completed book. That having been said, the chapter narrated entirely in Power Point by Sasha’s adolescent daughter was also a stand-out. Had I flipped to this page in the bookstore before buying it, I probably would have left it on the shelf – I hate that kind of in-your-face whimsy. But it worked well in this context, probably because the straightfowardness of the medium matches pretty well to that of your average disaffected pre-teen.

Still, even the good pieces are overshadowed by the fact that there are too many of them, and they don’t all quite fit together. The over-saturation left me wondering whether I had read anything at all, mass critical acclaim notwithstanding. The truth is, this post has been sitting in my queue as a draft for three weeks because I didn’t retain enough of the book to have any particular feeling about it. I read it, enjoyed a lot of it, but wasn’t really left with anything to hold on to. Maybe that’s a hidden reflection on time, the Goon Squad itself: we live it, we enjoy a lot of it, but ultimately it leaves us with very little. I doubt it, though. I think it’s far more likely that there were some very good pieces that needed a more thoughtful construction and better editing to really make it stick.

Recommended for: 29 year olds. Preferably those who are less than a month away from their thirtieth birthday. Same goes for 39 year olds.

Read when: You’re wallowing in self-pity about turning thirty. See above. Then put the book away and go eat some well-deserved birthday cake. As Jules says in the book, “Sure, everything is ending, but not yet.”

Listen with: Something mildly overbearing. Radiohead’s Kid A album.


HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #22: A Visit From The Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

To kick off this review, I wanted to share something kind of scary/exciting that happened this weekend! One of my CBR4 reviews [#18: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan] was somehow selected as one of this weekend’s “Freshly Pressed” blog posts and featured on WordPress’s home page.  I barely know how to use WordPress, and had no idea that those posts could come from amateurs like me.  But, it was pretty great to receive a bunch of comments from strangers who loved the book as much as I did.

Anyways, here’s to hoping that more CBR4 reviews are featured by WordPress to spread the word about how super cool Cannonball-ing is. On to the review…

I read Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and loved every creepy, fantastical minute of it. While I’d place The Keep on the mystery or horror shelf,  Egan’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad shows that Egan’s distinctive style translates across genres. While this book covers many topics: families, sex, drugs, passion, work and everything in between – it’s primarily about music. Music pulses through this book, whether explicitly in chapters about the music industry or implicitly in the chapters about those tangentially affected by it.

And there’s more…

ElCicco#CBR4Review #13: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a novel about time, but it is not told in chronological order and any one chapter could stand on its own as a short story. It seems at first that the chapters are only tangentially related to one another, but taken all together, they do present an engaging and thought provoking commentary on the passage of time and what happens when it seems like nothing is going on, during the “rests,” to use a musical term. Music and the music industry figure prominently in most of the stories, and the passage of time has as much impact on that industry as it does on any other character in this novel.

The first two chapters focus on Sasha and Bennie, and from there, move backwards to unravel their pasts, how they came to know each other, how they came to become involved in music, and the various people who were part of their personal stories, spinning out a web of events and individuals who don’t always recognize their connection to each other. The points of view of a dozen or more characters are presented chapter by chapter as we move backwards in time. In the final two chapters, however, Egan fast forwards to the future (the 2020’s), presenting the stories of one character’s daughter and then that character’s one-night-stand from decades earlier. The girl’s story is told in a power point presentation, which will be very difficult to read on a Kindle. I had to switch to my iPad. And, interesting side note, the girl has a teenage brother who has autism. Her brother loves music and is obsessed with musical pauses in famous songs — the longer the pause, the more interesting it is to him.

In life, it’s the “rests” that are so important, too – those times when it seems like nothing is happening but in fact, much can be going on that we simply don’t remember or don’t appreciate at the time. Even events that seemed like a big deal to us at a certain age can fade away into the background and be forgotten with time.

Time is a goon, as one character says. If you look up “goon” you will see it defined as a thug or as a fool. Time can behave like a thug, ravaging our bodies and our minds, and it can make us fools, showing us how wrong we were in some of our judgments and decisions. The goon squad comes for us all.

rdoak03’s #CBR4 Review #12: A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

For me, this book just didn’t live up to the hype, nor did it match the intrigue of The Keep. Read my thoughts here. I would love to hear yours as well!

rusha24’s #CBR4 Review #5: The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan

Last year I read Jennifer Egan’s latest novel A Visit From the Goon Squad and loved it—a lot. So when I saw her very first novel, The Invisible Circus, sitting in a used bookstore for a few bucks, I grabbed it, eager to see where she started as a writer. It’s an impressive debut, but definitely not without growing pains. While the writing already displays the gorgeous fluidity and feel for ambiance that she hones in her later work, in Invisible Circus she too often gives in to certain florid impulses. The result is a book that is both historically and atmospherically rich, yet sometimes lags with indulgent stretches.

Egan’s protagonist is Phoebe, an 18 year old girl living in San Francisco in the late 70s. She lives alone with her mother; her father died when she was young, her older brother is now a wealthy entrepreneur, and her older and much idolized sister, Faith, died in a freak fall (or suicide, it’s unclear at first) while sightseeing in Italy seven years before.  Feeling lonely, stifled, and generally disconnected from her life, Phoebe impulsively defers her college acceptance and takes off for Europe with the plan to follow Faith’s path (known because of a string of postcards that Faith sent home from abroad).

The rest of the book unspools in many ways like a classic coming-of-age story, but Egan makes it interesting by linking Phoebe up with Wolf, Faith’s boyfriend in high school and at the time of her death. Through Wolf’s reminisces of Faith and the flower-power era they were wrapped up in, Egan digs into a lot of weighty material: a person’s seeming incandescence in their younger sibling’s eyes contrasted with the kind of person they really were, set against the backdrop of the late 60s/early 70s and the shifting promises of the hippie generation.

Much of the narrative arc holds together, despite some contrived situations, on the strength of Egan’s writing. She brings European cities and ruins (and one terrifying acid trip) to life with detail and real feeling. Phoebe’s interspersed memories of her father are perhaps the strongest parts of the book: poignant, vivid, and layered with multiple significances—the young, innocent Phoebe’s image of family is now nestled beneath the more discerning gaze of her adolescence.

What kept me from enjoying the book more was Phoebe herself. I found her passive-aggressive, annoyingly naïve, and consistently self-occupied. To be fair, that’s a decent description of many 18 year-olds girls (I was one not too long ago); it just made her desperation to find a sense of self harder to empathize with. But overall, some really beautiful writing and an interesting look back into the psyche of the flower-children and those who traced their steps.

The Internet Magpie’s #CBR4 Review #2: A visit from the Goon Squad.

(Jennifer Egan)

I didn’t get it.

This is a really hard review to write, because it was a good book and I enjoyed reading it, but I feel like I’m missing something here. Egan’s novel is a series of characters whose lives intersect via music and technology, and I can certainly relate to that, but I didn’t feel much of a connection to anything in these pages.

She was amazing with details and character descriptions (some of her characters would have been perfectly at home in Francesca Lia Block’s LA, and I loooooooooooooooved Francesca Lia Block’s LA when I was growing up a super-awkward teen in Massachusetts) and little glimpses of the future, but I think I missed something.

Who else read this and got a lot out of it? It was a great book about Pretty People with Problems and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t super-affecting and didn’t much make me think. I just enjoyed it. I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did!

Seriously, can we discuss this in the comments, either here or on my blog? Sometimes talking about books helps me appreciate them more.

(340 pages)

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