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“A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

I admit, I decided to read this book because of the cover: a giant gold circle that hails it as the “Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award” and then a giant “NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW BEST BOOK” peeking out from the inside cover. When you fully turn to the inside cover, it’s also listed as one of the Best Books of the Year by Oprah Magazine, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, People, Publisher’s Weekly, Time, and the Washington Post (just to name a few).

In other words, the cover screamed: THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST F*ING BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ!

So was it?

It was as good as an episode of VH1’s “Where Are They Now?”

“They always say, Time’s a goon, right?” says aging and overweight washed-up rocker Bosco, which is the feel of the whole book: Time’s been a big goon to everybody, and they’ve been the Goon Squad: stupid fools- because things change, time passes- look what happened now.

There was once a time when Bennie, Scotty, Jocelyn, Rhea, and Alice had a punk-rock group called the Flaming Dildo’s in the late 70’s. “Bennie’s bass snickers to life and pretty soon we’re screaming out the songs, which have titles like ‘Pet Rock’ and ‘Do the Math’ and ‘Pass Me The Kool-Aide’. But when we holler them aloud in Scotty’s garage, the lyrics might as well be ‘Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.'” A record executive named Lou takes them under his wing (and a few in his bed).

That’s how it all starts.

How it all plays out is a medley of everyone’s stories (and stories from people whom this original crew gets to know further down the road in their various paths) from when they are at the highest point of their lives (point A) to the lowest they can go (point B). As Scotty says, “I want to know what happened between then.”  And things changed for everyone: most suffered some severe tragedy at some point or another and are trying to repair the damage it caused and work through it.

I agree the most with the New York Review of Books when it called it a “rich and unforgettable novel about decay and endurance, about individuals in a world as it changes around them.”

I really felt for each of these characters. Each was completely unique, each chapter told in a different sort of way (in some you get to know a character via a news article they wrote, one is done all in Powerpoint slides because pen and paper is just sooooo out of style). Each story intertwined somehow with the other, impacting each other. It’s like watching a 20 or 30 Year High School Reunion unfold in front of you- only a LOT more interesting than any high school reunion you’ll ever be invited to. Because these people really had interesting things happen to them- it’s a fiction book after all.

I really enjoyed it because I’m a sucker for tragic life stories. Though this isn’t written in your typical Lifetime channel “tragic life story” way. This was done in the more “oh my god, I read that in only a day and a half?!” kind of way. And I really felt towards a lot of the characters. Which is what a book should do. It should get some reaction out of you. And I felt the grief, the remorse, the joy, the depression, the anxiety, the elation, the confusion in each story.

Everyone has a story. It’s all told here. And it’s really addictive. Quite possibly over-hyped- but addictive.


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