I have always been intruiged by the Pulitzer prize because I usually don’t like the books they pick. But I decided to trust the committee again and read the 2011 Pulizer winner, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. This time I was pleasantly surprised.
This novel is really a series of 13 short stories that feature two main characters, Bennie Salazar an aging music executive and his assistant Sasha. Every story either features them directly or the interesting web of people within their circle of friends.
This unusual format was intruiging and it kept me on my feet. It was kind of like watching for a cameo appearance by your favorite movie star and it had me actively engaged in trying to map all of the characters together. In fact I started a little cheat sheet that looks like a family tree to connect the characters which made the book even more enjoyable.
The main character of the book is Sasha and we see her at various points of her life. She is a likeable main character because she is vulnerable and flawed. We first see her visiting her shrink as she discusses her shoplifing problem. But then we see her at vulnerable points throughout her life; as a runaway, a little girl growing up in a broken home, with her college boyfriend and finally and brilliantly through the eyes of her autistic daugher via a series of power point presentations.
Sasha has my favorite line of the book when she says; “I’m always happy, sometimes I just forget.”
Not only does this book skip back and forth between the friends of Sasha and Bennie but it goes back and forth in time going back as far as the 1960’s and even ventures into near future. The “near future” appears to be set around 2020 and the music industry is largely dominated by a swell of little baby boomers that buy digital music through a device called a “pointer”. Sound familiar? In this “near future” people don’t talk any more they simply “T” which appears to be a combination of Twitter and texting. Again, that doesn’t appear to be that far off either! If my house is any indication, the “pointer” and “T” trend are pretty spot on.
The book combines the two themes of time and technology and has an uplifting ending when Bennie arranges for one of his aging rock stars to host a live concert near the World Trade Towers or the “Footprint”. The concert is a huge success because the “pointer and T” crowd of toddlers influence their parents to participate. Trust me I am not spoiling the ending and the entirebook is well worth the read.
I recommend this book and give it a 5. It has excellent writing, interesting characters, an unusual style and thought provoking discussion.
Good job, Pulitzer Prize committe. This time, I understand!