Monday, June 13, 2011
What I'm Reading: A Visit From The Goon Squad
It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year. It appeared on the New York Times 10 Best Books 2010 list. In The Morning News Tournament of Books, it saw off Franzen's Freedom in the final. My friend Thomas Yagoda is listed in the acknowledgments for his helpful counseling and described it to me as 'a damn good book.' My wife liked it a lot, and told me I would too. I've heard nary a bad word about it.
Why then, did this book just not do it for me?
I'd read an earlier book by Egan, Look At Me, and was left with a similar feeling after finishing that: essentially, 'OK...so?' With that book I felt I had to have missed something. With this one, I'm less convinced that's the case. The much discussed PowerPoint chapter in Goon Squad is clever, yes. The last chapter, set in the near future is ok enough - it offers a chapter's worth of ideas on communication, similar to those Gary Shteyngart covered more fully in his novel Super Sad True Love Story (which, incidentally, was my least favourite book of his; pattern emerging?). But really - this is considered a benchmark novel today? There's barely a surprising sentence - or character, for that matter - in the entire book. The prose is clean and efficient, but in no way remarkable. The timeline leaps back and forth, and for a book that is largely set in or around the music industry, I felt the music references, as they relate to the timeline, were very unconvincing.
As I've said, this book was compared to Freedom in various book discussions and forums. For what it's worth, I come down on the side of Freedom, since it's a far more ambitious book. A better comparison, though, would be Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin. McCann's is a vastly superior book - poetic, deeply moving, full of voices and stories we haven't heard before...