A Visit from the Goon Squad
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3555.G292 V57 2010|
A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) is a work of fiction by American author Jennifer Egan. It won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Most of the stories in A Visit from the Goon Squad concern Bennie Salazar, an aging rock music executive; his old assistant, Sasha; and their various friends and associates. The book follows a large cast of mostly self-destructive characters as they grow older and life sends them in directions they did not intend to go in. The stories shift back and forth in time, moving from the late sixties to the present and into the near future. Many of the stories take place in or around New York City, although some are set in California, Italy and Kenya.
Novel or short story collection
Because of its unusual narrative structure, some critics have characterized the book as a novel and others as a collection of linked short stories. A Visit from the Goon Squad has 13 chapters, all of which can be read as individual stories, and does not focus on any single central character or narrative arc. In addition, many of the chapters were originally published as short stories in magazines such as The New Yorker and Harper's. In an interview with Salon.com's Laura Miller, Egan said she leaned toward calling the book a novel rather than a short story collection.
- Sasha: Runs away to Asia and then Naples as a teenager, then studies at NYU and later becomes Bennie's assistant (for 12 years). Is a kleptomaniac. Marries late and moves to the desert to raise her two kids.
- Bennie: Interested in the music business. Once a member of a band named "Flaming Dildos" with Scotty, Alice, Rhea, and Jocelyn. Later creates his own record label.
- Lou: A music producer, and Bennie's mentor. Has many different affairs, marriages and children.
- Scotty: Member of the Flaming Dildos as a teenager, but goes on to live in the margins of society. Eventually achieves a level of musical success as an older man.
- Stephanie: Bennie's first wife.
- Dolly: Publicist in pursuit of fame.
- Lulu: Dolly's daughter; unsure of father. Eventually replaces Sasha as Bennie's assistant in the final story, set in the near-future.
- Kitty: A hugely successful teen star who becomes jaded and harsh after she is assaulted by Jules.
- Jules: Stephanie's older brother. A bi-polar celebrity Journalist who goes to prison after assaulting Kitty.
- Rob: Sasha's (closeted) gay best friend in college. Survives a suicide attempt but drowns while swimming with Sasha's boyfriend months later.
- Bosco: Guitarist. Once a rockstar in Conduit, who becomes a fat, aging cancer survivor with many health problems.
- Alex: Went on a date and slept with Sasha in his twenties, later marries Rebecca and has a daughter Cara-Ann. Does a job for Bennie, secretly advertising Scotty's show.
- Jocelyn: Dated (middle-aged) Lou as a teenager.
- Here's a helpful link to understand the relationships between the various characters, some more prevalent than others: http://www.filosophy.org/projects/goonsquad/ 
"Goon squads" were originally groups of violent thugs who would beat up anyone opposed to certain labor unions and corrupt political machines. Later the term "goon" came to refer more generally to any violent thug, and this is where the book draws its central metaphor. In one story, a character named Bosco declares: "Time's a goon, right?", referring to the way that time and fate cruelly rob most of the book's characters of their youth, innocence and success. As Bosco complains: "How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about?" Some of the book's characters do end up finding happiness, but it is always a limited happiness, and it is rarely in the form that they intended. In an interview, Egan explained that "time is the stealth goon, the one you ignore because you are so busy worrying about the goons right in front of you."
Many of the book's characters work in the music industry, particularly the rock music business. Rock and roll, with its emphasis on youth culture, plays into the book's themes of aging and the loss of innocence. As Egan says, "my 9-year-old loves Lady Gaga and refers to Madonna as ‘old school’. There’s no way to avoid becoming part of the past." Rock music was also central to the marketing push behind the book, although the actual text does not focus directly on musicians or music making. Egan said she knew rock and roll only as a consumer at the time she began writing the book and had to do a lot of research on the subject.
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. The Pulitzer Prize Board noted that the novel was an "inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed". In commenting on her Pulitzer, NPR critic Jonathan Bastian noted that "Egan is the one of the most recent and successful examples of a trend that has been steadily seeping into the world of contemporary literature." The unusual format of the novel, taking place across multiple platforms, has led some critics to label the novel "post-postmodern". Many critics were impressed by Egan's experiments with structure, such as a section formatted like a PowerPoint printout.
Other honors included:
- Los Angeles Times Book Prize, winner (Fiction, 2010)
- Salon Book Award, winner (Fiction, 2010)
- The Tournament of Books, winner (2011)
- PEN/Faulkner Award, finalist (2011)
- Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Best Books (2010)
- New York Times Best Books of the Year (2010)
- Time Magazine's Best Books of the Year (2010)
- Egan was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in 2011 because of the novel.
- New York Times Notable Book of the Year (Fiction & Poetry, 2010)
- ALA Notable Book (2011)
On April 20, 2011, two days after the Pulitzer win, it was announced that a deal with HBO for a television series adaptation had been signed. As of February 2013, the project had reportedly "fizzled", meaning it was no longer in development.
- Bastian, Jonathan. "'Goon Squad' Ushers In An Era Of New Perspectives". NPR. Archived from the original on 5 May 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Jennifer Egan and Isabel Wilkerson Win National Book Critics Circle Awards", By JULIE BOSMAN, NY Times, March 10, 2011
- "Pulitzer Prize Citation". Pulitzer.org. Archived from the original on 12 May 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- (pg. 109)
- "The Book on Aging Rockers", by Jane Ciabattari, The Daily Beast, June 29, 2010.
- A Conversation with JENNIFER EGAN, BBC Audiobooks America
- "A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – review", Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian, 13 March 2011
- Speakeasy blog (18 April 2011). "Jennifer Egan on Winning the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Jennifer Egan wins fiction Pulitzer". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "HBO Sets Pulitzer Prize Winner 'A Visit From The Goon Squad' For Series Treatment", Mike Flemming, April 20, 2011
- Alexandra Alter (February 21, 2013). "TV's Novel Challenge: Literature on the Screen". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
- Review by Ron Charles, The Washington Post, June 16, 2010
- Review by Janet Maslin, The New York Times Book Review, June 20, 2010