Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's a goon to a goblin?

Following up on my earlier trend of reading Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, I read A Visit From the Goon Squad. The description in the book jacket doesn't do it justice: from the summary, I expected it to be solely about a music company executive and his assistant and how their personal lives revolve around music memories. But it wasn't.

Egan's made-up adage ("Time's a goon") is introduced about halfway through the book, and after that the book made a little more sense. Sure, the music industry is the center of most of the stories (and the book can arguably be independent vignettes, rather than chapters leading into each other). But because I'm partial to stories about time, I enjoyed how each chapter skipped around in time and place: from the 1960s to the future, from LA to New York to Africa to Italy. The characters, like real people, have changed a lot in each time and location, but still echo their old or future selves in recognizable ways. It's a great picture of how people and time change, how fads (music included) change quickly, how technology changes personal connections and culture itself (like music), how the past and youth will always seem more innocent because time hasn't been able to alter them as much ... yet.

As much as I liked the book and appreciated certain parts of it, I didn't completely love it. The skipping around took away from the character development - and all the reader could see were the characters at disjointed periods in their lives, with no context for the change except another character's gossip and surmising. I understand that that might have been the intent - but it made everything and everyone a sort of unsolvable mystery. But maybe that's also an echo of reality.

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