Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Two protagonists are at the center of this series of linked short stories: Bennie Salazar, a music producer in New York City, and Sasha Blake, his assistant who happens to be a kleptomaniac. Swirling around this pair is a loose galaxy of other people connected to them across time and across the planet. Their stories are told in fragments and through multiple perspectives. Egan has created a fabulous cross-genre hybrid, slipping from present to past to future - where wired pre-verbal toddlers form a sizable consumer market. One story is told in a slide presentation, another is a magazine article with extensive footnotes. It all comes together in a marvelous tapestry of a novel about the pivotal events that shape our lives and the shifting nature of identity as we get older. Highly recommended, especially to readers looking for something different. If you find my blog postings too short, here is a long review at the NYRB by Cathleen Schine.

Readalikes are tough for this one. Other story-cycles (Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Louise Erdrich) stick more closely to place or time or people than Egan does. The X-Indian Chronicles by Thomas Yeahpah has a similar variety within the stories, but is quite a bit darker and grittier. Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway or Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden might work for a reader who wants more journeys to adulthood that cross culture and class.
Interesting that I'm reminded of three works by Aboriginal authors, even though there is no Aboriginal content in VFTGS. The qualities I'm matching are nonlinear storytelling, verve, humour and a melancholy tone.

Empathy by Sarah Schulman is another story set in New York and told in an avant garde style with a central theme of identity. Fault Lines by Nancy Huston, The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw and The Hours by Michael Cunningham are examples of novels told in shifting viewpoints and time periods that are connected only by the reader, not the protagonists.

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