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      Volume 10 |Issue 20 | May 27, 2011 |


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Book Review

When Time's a goon

Nameera Ahmed

More often than not, the people, tend to peg each generation with a tag line. For the 60's it was all about 'peace signs, hippies and flower children', the 90's paved the way for the rise of 'change' and as so eloquently put by then presidential candidate Clinton 'a place called hope'; the present era differs from all these decades. The 21st century as we know it is not about, wars or huge stock market blow-outs,(although those are plenty in themselves) it is known for the 'great depression'. Ironically by 'great depression' we refer not to the financial forum, but the inherent sense of disgust this generation tends to display for itself, Pulitzer winning Jennifer Egan's book captures perfectly how here, there exists a sense of nothing being right, and more importantly of nothing being enough.

In 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' Egan's writing portrays initially a young character, who, despite being at what should be, a relatively stable point in her life, displays unusual and sometimes incomprehensible instability, and a definite struggle to define these inner demons or even to answer the resounding 'why?'

The books reads a bit like an old John Lennon song, not a Beatles song - a John Lennon song, one he wrote, because somehow the absolute insanity that so casually slipped into that one Beatle Legend's life is somehow something that shines through the book- cautious, careful insanity. It is almost as if the author's portrayal of the music industry, and how the intricate links in the book associate the main characters with the industry and life, forges an almost palpable sense of lunacy, while ensuring that the hard edge of reality gives the storyline a sense of 'that's actually possible'.

The book's titular 'Goon' is a reference to a point in the books where, one of the title characters Bennie states "Time's a goon, right?" And it is perhaps with that one statement that he defines a large portion of what the book is truly about. A continuing tale of discontinuity in kinship and memories, Jennifer Egan's raw depiction of how one cannot avoid becoming a part of the past while in the present will draw the reader in and drag them to their feet. With the book reading off several different panes in reference to perspective, the different voices accompanied by the wildly different locales from the wilds of Africa to modern day NYC, from Californian sun to Italy in all it's glory, the reader will actually identify with the seeming disassociation as the past-present time shifts play tug-of-war with the reader's mind only to promptly drag them into the blazing, destructive present.

Further more the basic format of the book itself is both grating and eye-catching, as almost near the end of the book with roughly thirty pages or so left the book lurches into a 75-page interlude in PowerPoint, as a 'slide journal' of one of the compelling main characters 12 year old counter-part.

The result of this jumble of post-post modern literature? Literary Cleansing.

Eagan's writing is brash, raw and woundingly graphic, and yet the novel is both redemptive and crudely nonchalant. Bennie and Sasha, the two most developed of the characters are shown in both growth, in shame and glory. Her writing is flaky in places and yet freely so, A Visit from the Goon Squad is far from one of the many prettily packaged contemporary novels of choice, instead it is jarringly brilliant, with an edge that brings to life the numbing 'I-don't-care' of contemporary life.

If one wishes to be more lucidly coherent, a reference to the Pulitzer Prize Board where the novel was said to be an "inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed", is in order. Considering that Author Jennifer Egan walked away from this Board with a Pulitzer makes it quite obvious that this is one instance where curiosity wasn't exactly half-bad.

Quote-worthy line:
Although the entire book is worthy of literary perusal, the one line that happened to jump out and capture the essence of the book to a certain extent, was the following -

“I'm done,” he said. “I'm old, I'm sad that's on a good day. I want out of this mess. But I don't want to fade away, I want to flame away- I want my death to be an attraction, a spectacle, a mystery….”




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