2015: I turn 58

2015: Back in Provincetown, I sit still and stare at the water. The last couple of years, all my writing efforts have poured into this current novel and apparently all my self-worth as well. When I see people, they ask if … Continue reading

2014: I turn 57

Yesterday evening while I was walking, I began to think ahead to this year and to 2015. And these upcoming years made me realize that for 2012 and 2013 I left out two important things. One, my parents’ health is worsening, in particular … Continue reading

2013: I turn 56

2013: One week a month in Provincetown. Space is opening all around me. I plan ahead, run the dates by Cal, and start booking flights. In January, I stay at The Watermark Inn. It’s closed. But I’ve stayed here before and it’s … Continue reading

2012: I turn 55

  2012: After I give my lecture and reading, I start making the changes to my first novel that my agent (late addition to yesterday’s post) has requested, Tori Amos’ Silent All These Years and Regina Spector’s Us on repeat.  Cal comes … Continue reading

2010: I turn 53

2010: The new year begins in the deep snow of Vermont. I stay in the dorm, wear my first pair of snow boots, and vow not to waste any more years writing novels that don’t sell. I will go shorter. And I … Continue reading

2009: I turn 52

2009: Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President. After a visit to Bobby in Scotland, Cal comes with me to Sirenland. It’s the only writing conference I know that is spouse friendly. In Italy we make a daily habit of climbing all those steps … Continue reading

2008: I turn 51

As you might guess from the length of yesterday’s and today’s posts–the squares turning into rectangles–writing these short is getting more difficult. The years feel unwieldy now rather than obscure. I’m working to contain rather than to remember. 2008: I start … Continue reading

2004: I turn 47

And just like that… I’m almost 50. 2004: My stomach issues post-hysterectomy require a trip to the Mayo Clinic. From there I go straight to Miraval–one of their ads caught my attention–but for my next spa visit, I will return … Continue reading

2002: I turn 45

2002: For her 21st birthday, I take Kathleen to Canyon Ranch. It’s snowing as we board the plane in Atlanta. As the boarding process continues, it snows harder. We pull back and sit on the runway. The captain comes on and … Continue reading

1999: I turn 42

1999: Across the pond, the euro is born, but here at home, there are carpools times a thousand, dentist appointments, doctor appointments, snacks for all the various games, watching the various games, school conferences, the grocery times a thousand, the meals that … Continue reading

you gonna let that goon push you around?

As some of you may know from my recent post, last week, Jennifer Egan’s book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. This morning it was also long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

A Visit From the Goon Squad is brilliant. It’s not a novel in the traditional sense. The chapters can be read and appreciated as stand-alone pieces. In fact, four have been published that way: “Selling the General” in the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit published in 2006; and three in The New Yorker: “Found Objects” (Chapter 1) in the December 10, 2007 issue, “Safari” (Chapter 4) in the January 11, 2010 issue, and “Ask Me If I Care” (Chapter 3) in the March 8, 2010 issue.

In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin is unsure whether the book is “a novel, a collection of carefully arranged interlocking stories or simply a display of Ms. Egan’s extreme virtuosity.” In an interview on Selected Shorts, Jennifer Egan referred to sections of her book as stories and also as chapters of a longer book.

Regardless of their severability, when read as pieces of a longer work, they shine–oh, they shine. Like separate parts of the universe talking to each other.

The chapters move backward and forward, and part of the pleasure of reading each one is to figure out where we are in time. From Chapter 13: “Pure Language:”

Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?

And there are sufficient clues—dates, ages, references to events we’ve read about in other chapters—that the reader enjoys the challenge and never feels frustrated. And after all we should struggle with time, for that is the subject of the book. Time. Who we were then, who we are now, and how we got from there to here—from side A to side B.

From Chapter 7: “A to B:”

The album’s called A to B, right? Bosco said. “And that’s the question I want to hit straight on: how did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about? Let’s not pretend it didn’t happen.

In the same Selected Shorts interview, Egan said, “And one of the principles of the longer book is that each chapter had to be written in a very different way technically from all the others.”

Because each of the chapters has its own separate sound, when they all play together, the result is the answer to E. M. Forster’s question in Aspects of the Novel:

Is there any effect in novels comparable to the effect of the Fifth Symphony as a whole, where, when the orchestra stops, we hear something that has never actually been played?

Brilliant.

The first in a series of posts on A Visit From the Goon Squad. For the second post, click Pure Egan.

cross-posted at The Contrary Blog