A Visit From the Goon Squad. Jennifer Egan.

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad. Anchor New York 2010. F;09/11

This is a grand slam for me. Egan has a beautiful colloquial ear that rarely misses the mark across a big range of characters, and this solves the problem that a lot of bloggers seemed to have with this book when I went looking. She’s telling us something we have never heard in quite the same way before and maybe we really need to hear.

It’s fragmented, called not quite short stories and not quite a novel, but a series of fiction pieces which are eventually both a narrative and a metaphorical pulling-together of distant and randomly-related characters. Some people feel the use of PowerPoint format (in one chapter from the point of view of a young teenager) and an Orwell future scene are contrived for effect, but I don’t think so. She’s not trying to impress us with stage lighting, but to get us to love the play. The way she feeds us her message in spite of a complicated plot and these “contrivances” reminds me of Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek): its the idea that matters! The lives of the characters (or for Dillard the entomology and ethology of creatures outside the door) are fabulous to behold but you better understand there’s something else important going on here.

Something important? Everybody gets old and dies. When people make mistakes they usually end up paying for them, sometimes dearly. Funny little things happen that seem like nothing at all but eventually have terrible significance. Smart honest people can see all this happening if they keep their eyes open and… what? Marvel at it? Be saddened by it? Find it thrilling? Learn? All of the above?

Just the right mix of great writing and great sentiment. 9.3/9.0

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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