Webs upon webs upon webs – a web of people tangled up in the great web of time. That’s Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goonsquad, and time is such a fucking goon. It beats you up, and not one of Egan’s characters can escape.
I just… ugh. I love this book. I love books that play with time like it’s silly putty (The Sound and The Fury, anyone?), and Egan manages to do this while showing immense respect for the damage it can do, knowing no one who can get out alive and unscarred; knowing that those who attempt to live in their memories will suffer most of all.
But let me back up for a moment. According to my book’s cover, A Visit from the Goonsquad is “a novel,” but it takes the form of interwoven short stories, each story focusing in on a different time, different characters, in different phases of their lives. The web holds up 10 or 20 total characters – main players and side-liners. But if we chose two characters to call the protagonists, I (and the back cover of the book) would loosely choose Bennie Salazar, a former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, his (former) assistant, necrophiliac, and fellow punk rock enthusiast.
Like everyone, readers and fictional characters alike, Bennie and Sasha are living their lives, popping in and out of others’ lives just as others appear in theirs. If a name is mentioned, you can count on them reappearing somewhere. Like I said, no one gets to escape the goon (AKA Time). We’re introduced to Sasha at the height of her necrophiliac addiction, and Bennie’s eating up gold flecks at $10k an ounce so he can feel a hard-on like the good old days. Their memories haunt them, their pasts following them to the present and ruining whatever good comes their way.
But the best and most interesting character is the goon in the title: “’Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.’” The goon always wins, but not always in the way you would expect. I told you no one escapes alive, right? Well, some come out better than others. You have to decide for yourself who those people are and why, but Jennifer gives us a hint:
“Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years” – Marcel Proust, In Search of Time (the epigraph).
Time changes people, situations, relationships. Time is like ocean waves, breaking mountains without a care in the world. The characters are the best part of this book: they are their own personalities and they have their own lives, their own trials. They aren’t you. You’re probably not Scotty or Bennie or Sasha or Lulu. But they are caught in the same merciless ocean of time that we are, fighting the current back to the good times. Little do we know that those times were taken in by the tide.
The goon or the ocean or whatever metaphor you like, beats you up until you find that you’re fading away, dying. As brief as Bosco’s appearance is, his statement resonates with the plight of a few key characters: “I don’t want to fade away, I want to flame away – I want my death to be an attraction, a spectacle, a mystery. A work of art.” Bosco is old news, a former rock star who’s gobbled up the pounds and wasted away on his couch for years after the height of his fame.
As a college senior graduating in a matter of days, this book makes me feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff – staring into the eyes of a goon that’s about to throw me into the churning ocean waters. It makes me want to hold on for dear life, to my partner, my friends, my family, because who’s to know if I’m one of the ones who will come out okay? And even if I do come out okay, there’s a lot of shit to go through first. A lot of failure, bad luck, good luck, love, work, adventure, hardship. I can never go back and can never see too far forward.
But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s being human, being present and mindful. Soak it up because no one makes it out alive and unscarred.
Is the goon beating you up? How in the world are you surviving?
Who are the people featuring in your life right now?
If you’ve read A Visit From the Goonsquad, what is your interpretation, your thoughts, your experience with this novel/collection (whatever it is)?
Context: Sasha scolding her husband her yelling at their son who is totally obsessed with the length of pauses in rock songs.
“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”
PS: If you’re a music nerd, especially a punk rock music nerd, this is the book you need to buy.