Synopsis Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her longstanding compulsion to steal.
Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life – divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed up band in the basement of a suburban house and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang – who thrived and who faltered – and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to Powerpoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both and escape the merciless progress of time in the transporting realms of art and music. This sly, startling, exhilarating work comes from one of our boldest writers.
Bookclub Review It was a chilly evening in Amsterdam with the outside temperature at -6 degrees. Despite this there was a good turnout for book group, which I put down to the fact that this is a wonderful book that we all enjoyed! Nobody was surprised that Ms Egan won the Pulitzer prize for this work: it is notable for its excellent style and characters that are believable and likable. That said, some of us did find the science fiction ending a little weird as this was a total switch from the rest of the book. It was also the only aspect of the book that the group thought didn’t quite work. Overall though, we rated this book 4 ½ out of 5 – one of the highest scores that our group has ever given to a book.