Tuesday 30 June 2015

Visit from the Goon Squad

A review that has been in the draft folder for weeks so I just need to write something and move on ... not that I didn't love this book, just that I have been lacking the energy to put fingers to keyboard.
I picked up 'A Visit From the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan when I was visiting Monkey in London. It is a collection of interlocking stories that covers the lifetime of the central group of young people who gather in the first chapter. Each time you have to make a small mental adjustment to see who is involved and where in time the events are taking place; often years have flashed past in the turn of the page and they are all but unrecognisable. I liked it because of the different voices and the immediate way she manages to involve you on each new chapter; despite the ups and downs  that life throws at them the characters are identifiable and I enjoyed the unfolding of the separate paths. She jumps around from tense to tense; sometimes things are described very immediate as they happen, then other times it is reminiscences, and then others she lurches wildly into the future describing in a short paragraph the long term outcomes of a particular event. I really love the chapter written by a teenage daughter in the form of charts and diagrams, it gave her a very distinctive voice. I didn't note down any quotes, which is unusual, and mostly signifies that I was engaged with the story more than the intricacies of the prose.
I pulled this one out almost at random, it gives a picture of their teenage days:

"On warm days Scotty plays his guitar. Not the electric he uses for Flaming Dildos gigs, but a lap steel guitar that you hold a different way. Scotty actually built this instrument: bent the wood, glued it, painted on the shellac. Everyone gathers around; there's no way not to when Scotty plays. One time the entire J.V. soccer team climbed up from the athletic field to listen, looking around in their jerseys and long red socks like they didn't know how they got there. Scotty is magnetic. And I say that as someone who does not love him.
The Flaming Dildos have had a lot of names: the Crabs, the Croks, the Crimps, the Crunch, the Scrunch, the Gawks, the Gobs, the Flaming Spiders, the Black Widows. Every time Scotty and Bennie changed the name, Scotty sprays black over his guitar case and Bennie's bass case, and then he makes a stencil of the new name and sprays it on. We don't know how they decide if they should keep a name, because Bennie and Scotty don't actually talk. But they agree on everything, maybe through ESP. Jocelyn and I write all the lyrics and wok out the tunes with Bennie and Scotty. We sing with them in rehearsal, but we don't like being onstage. Alice doesn't either - the only thing we have in common with her." (p.43-44)

There is something faintly nostalgic about the story, or you feel that way by the time you reach the end, a wistful sense of what might have been, and a trying to hold on to the romantic notions of adolescence. 

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