March 25, 2014
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A Visit From The Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

Second reading of this marvelous, strange book. My original notes stand up well, I think.


In this fascinating and compelling novel, every chapter begins with a timeshift and a new point of view. What might seem a tedious experiment in late postmodernism becomes, in Egan’s hands, a natural way to tell a complex story about the intersecting lives of a group of friends and acquaintances over the span of many years.

At one point, a successful music industry pro is taking his kids and his (very) personal assistant on an African safari. His sulky daughter Charlie, one night, joins in a dance around the fire and launches us through time:

Lou lets go of Mindy’s hand and sits up straight. He wants to grab his daughter’s skinny arm and yank her away from these black men, but does no such thing, of course. That would be letting her win. The warrior smiles at Charlie. He’s nineteen, only five years older than she is, and has lived away from his village since he was ten. But he’s sung for enough American tourists to recognize that in her world, Charlie is a child. Thirty-five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence between the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire. He’ll have had four wives and sixty-three grandchildren by then, one of whom, a boy named Joe, will inherit his lalema: the iron hunting dagger in a leather scabbard now hanging at his side. Joe will go to college at Columbia and study engineering, becoming an expert in visual robotic technology that detects the slightest hint of irregular movement (the legacy of a childhood spent scanning the grass for lions). He’ll marry an American named Lulu and remain in New York, where he’ll invent a scanning device that becomes standard issue for crowd security. He and Lulu will buy a loft in Tribeca, where his grandfather’s hunting dagger will be displayed inside a cube of Plexiglas, directly under a skylight.

It should not come as a surprise that, much later, we will meet Lulu once more, or that she will play an important (if unconscious) part in resolving an injustice that appears in the book’s earliest chapter (though not its first) and which no one seems to have noticed.