Monday, November 14, 2016

61 Books: #59

The project: to read 61 books, of whatever sort—short, long; literature, schlock; prose, poetry: you name it—before December 4, 2016.

The first ten books can be seen here. The second ten are here. Nos. 21–58 can be found . . . below (especially April–October of this year).

59. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) (11/14/16)
I have had this book on my shelf for years, but something about it put me off—maybe the aggressive title, maybe a story in it that is all PowerPoint slides, such that I thought the book might be too experimental for my tastes. But after finishing Lord of the Flies (so depressing) I wanted something upbeat, and somehow this book jumped into my hands. And I started reading.

What a fabulous book! No wonder it won the Pulitzer. I really don't have enough superlatives.

It's thirteen linked stories (some, granted, more successful than others), using various forms and tropes—aside from the twelve-year-old's PowerPoint, there's some "journalism" (enhanced by footnotes), the second-person-singular (you) POV, the talking-to-the-psychiatrist form; there's a story about an art historian, and many of the descriptions invoke artists rather than adjectives. Like this: "She didn't answer. She was looking at the sun. Ted looked, too, staring through the window at the riot of dusty color. Turner, he thought. O'Keeffe. Paul Klee." There's a story set in Africa that is framed by anthropological theoretical structures. And there's lots of music.

But mostly, these stories are about time—the goon squad of the title—as we travel back and forth in it, peeling back the layers of the main characters, Bennie, a record executive, and Sasha, his assistant (at least for some of these stories) and of other characters whose lives intersect theirs.

The writing is dazzling, and my book now bristles with flags.

Here are two examples of the way Egan treats the teasing treachery of time:

"Lou and Mindy dance close together, their whole bodies touching, but Mindy is thinking of Albert, as she will periodically after marrying Lou and having two daughters, his fifth and sixth children, in quick succession, as if sprinting against the inevitable drift of his attention. On paper he'll be penniless, and Mindy will end up working as a travel agent to support her little girls. For a time her life will be joyless; the girls will seem to cry too much, and she'll think longingly of this trip to Africa as the last happy moment of her life, when she still had a choice, when she was free and unencumbered. She'll dream senselessly, futilely, of Albert, wondering what he might be doing at particular times, how her life would have turned out if she'd run away with him as he'd suggested, half joking, when she visited him in room number three. Later, of course, she'll recognize 'Albert' as nothing more than a focus of regret for her own immaturity and disastrous choices. When both her children are in high school, she'll finally resume her studies, complete her Ph.D. at UCLA, and begin an academic career at forty-five, spending long periods of the next thirty years doing social structures fieldwork in the Brazilian rain forest. Her youngest daughter will go to work for Lou, become his protégée, and inherit his business."


"As Ted sat, feeling the evolution of the afternoon, he found himself thinking of Susan. Not the slightly different version of Susan, but Susan herself—his wife—on a day many years ago, before Ted had begun folding up his desire into the tiny shape it had become. On a trip to New York, riding the Staten Island Ferry for fun, because neither one of them had ever dun it, Susan turned to him suddenly and said, 'Let's make sure it's always like this.' And so entwined were their thoughts at that point that Ted knew exactly why she'd said it: not because they'd made love that morning or drunk a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé at lunch—because she'd felt the passage of time. And then Ted felt it, too, in the leaping brown water, the scudding boats and wind—motion, chaos everywhere—and he'd held Susan's hand and said, 'Always. It will always be like this.' "

1 comment:

  1. I might have to re-read this. I suspect I could learn more from it on a second, more examined reading.