Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Win a Copy of *A Visit From the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

Something happens when one turns forty. Most anyone who passes it in good enough health gets down (slowly) on their knees and thanks whatever deity they believe in, and then starts bargaining. One takes stock and loses sleep over what's still not there in their lives, or resolves to find it pretty quickly. The youthful indiscretions that were so important to a sense of self in the salad days, are either forgotten about or spoken of only as a cautionary tale. Then there is music. More specifically the vast array of what passed (passes?) for rock. It's everywhere, and for the lives of most of us, has always been.

In Jennifer Egan's daring and brilliant new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, she asks what happens when the parents control the turntables early on, and find themselves largely irrelevant when their sons and daughters grow up and take over.
The novel spans the early eighties in San Fransisco when punk was breaking all over and Bennie Salazar was a musician and a talent spotter. He forms a record company and his golden touch allows him to stride over the landscape like a colossus with street credibility. In the thirty-five years, well as an aging rocker says in the book, "Time is a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"

The other main character in the book is Sasha, his assistant at Sow's Ear Records. We first meet her on a shrinks couch, trying to make sense of her lifelong penchant for theft. Other characters include a mentor of Benny's "who knew Bill Graham personally," musicians who wasted it all, or most notably the children of various hangers on who grew up without stable parents and thus had to clean up the generational mess left to them, or succumb to it.

A cast of characters who either shine in the new millennium or are rendered moot by it would read simply as a laundry list of checks and balances in the hands of a lesser writer, but the connections over a variety of locales and instances, each in some way leading back to Benny and or Sasha are poignant, masterfully put together and in some ways oddly hopeful despite the generational divide at the core of "Goon Squad.
An excerpt between a writer Jules and his sister Stephanie, a public relations manager for a record company, who are discussing a comeback tour of an burned out musician named Bosco, reads as follows:
I feel like everything is ending, she said.

She was thinking of the old days, as she and Bennie now called them. Not just pre-Crandale but premarriage, preparenthood, premoney, pre hard-drug renunciation, preresponsibility of an kind, when they were still kicking around the Lower East Side with Bosco, going to bed after sunrise, turning up at strangers apartments, having sex in quasi public, engaging in daring acts that had more than once included (for her) shooting heroin, because none of it was serious. They were young and lucky and strong--what did they have to worry about? If they didn't like the result, they could go back and start again. And now Bosco was sick, hardly able to move, feverishly planning his death. Was this outcome a freak aberration from natural laws, or was it normal--a thing they should have seen coming? Had they somehow brought it on?

Jules put his arm around her. "If you'd asked me this morning,I would have said we were finished," he said. "All of us, the whole country--the fucking world. But now I feel the opposite."
Stephanie knew. She could practically hear the hope sluicing through her brother. "So what's the answer?" she asked.
"Sure, everything is ending," Jules said, "but not yet."

Lots of novels have as their terrain the chronicling of the end times, large or small and lots of novels are written to a tune. A Visit from the Goon Squad does both, does it in a variety for formats (one chapter is presented as a Power Point presentation) and it's my favourite book of the year so far.

P.S. Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story is a close second and their are at least thematically, very similar books.


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