A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

53 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

A Visit from the Good Squad is remarkably well done. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. It won the Pulitzer Prize. It was supposed to be remarkable.

Still, I didn’t exactly expect to love it. This is a book of loosely related stories all centering around the music industry and around characters that are deeply flawed or damaged in some way. That never quite sounded like the makings of a winner to me. I had to force myself to read it, and I did that just because I thought I ought to read this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner. It was one of those I was planning to read a little at a time just to say I did. I ended up pretty well reading it in one sitting instead. As I said, it’s remarkable.

The writing is powerful. The characters are interesting. There’s just enough connection between any one story and the rest of the collection to give you something to sink your teeth into. There are also some very smart reflections on human nature and on damaged lives.

In this collection, we meet a young woman who can’t stop herself from stealing, a man who has a bi-polar meltdown and assaults a movie star in a public park, a middle-aged man who has an affair with a teenager, a washed up music producer who attempts to restart his own career by discovering a high school friend whose talents he’s ignored for decades, and a college student who survives a suicide attempt only to accidentally drown. These characters are haunting, and they are offered to us with breathtaking skill.

Jennifer Egan may be my new favorite author. Since I haven’t read anything else by her I’ll reserve judgement on that until I do. Regardless, this book well deserved the prize, and Egan is certainly someone to keep an eye out for. With her beautifully melancholic remarkable voice, she’s done something few people manage. She’s written a book that feels important to think about while at the same time difficult to put down. I am deeply impressed.

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