Time can hurt, time can heal; time can be indulgent, time can be a bastard. Time is a non-linear, intransigent, painful blob we are immersed in, and Jennifer Egan in A Visit from the Goon Squad gives a vivid and moving representation of it. What is at stake with experimental literature is – if the novel’s core is the experimentation itself – a sense of coldness and detachment, something that diverts the reader from the delicate process of immersion and empathy (one of the great pleasures of reading a story). But Jennifer Egan, thanks to brilliant dialogues and three-dimensional characters – wounded, lonely, lost in an everyday struggle in the effort of being understood – avoids affectation, and A Visit from The Goon Squad keeps the connection with the reader alive without being cloying.
Starting from the two main characters, the musical producer Bennie Salazar and his assistant, Sasha, Egan succeeds in intertwining several other characters, timelines, and locations. Egan has said that the novel was inspired by two sources: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and HBO’s The Sopranos. It’s an odd combination, but makes perfect sense: Goon Squad is a book about memory and kinship, time and narrative, continuity and disconnection, in which relationships shift and recombine kaleidoscopically. It is neither a novel nor a collection of short stories, but something in between; every chapter is narrated from a different point of view, crafted with freshness and plausibility. Egan explores not only language and perspective, but even format. In the novel, there’s a chapter shaped like a magazine essay, a rape report written by its imprisoned author in David Foster Wallace style, and another one built as a PowerPoint presentation, surprisingly touching.
Egan’s novel is a symphony that connects voices and experiences, moving back and forth in the cyclicity of life.