Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Everybody has a Before and an After

Oh, boy. I was set up by all the stellar reviews, probably, but this book disappointed me. Luckily there weren’t many pages, so there wasn’t much debate about whether to quit or not. I stuck it out. Unfortunately, this book also directly touched on my pet peeve, which is the book of short stories being marketed as a novel. This was not a novel. It was a miscellany. And a gimmicky one at that.

Two of the stories I really liked. “A to B”, a story of infidelity in an upscale suburb, and “Selling the General” which was a funny satire of the public relations industry. Everything else felt to me like it was treading water. The multiplicity of characters never generated any tension for me, even though I believe each main character gets two stories (before/after). But Jennifer Egan is good at the “bon mots,” the home truths, even though they felt occasionally too glib. I enjoyed reading those, and they were studded throughout the stories.

The biggest problem was that I kept thinking, God, these people are annoying. Sasha, one of the “main characters,” suffers from kleptomania, and I lack sympathy for affluent Caucasians suffering from kleptomania. I just do.

The famous Powerpoint chapter was clever, though cloying sentimental. My expectations when reading a novel is that the story will engage the emotions directly through the character’s struggle with some conflict. Bottom line, I never connected to these people.

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