Friday, March 23, 2012

A Visit From The Goon Squad: Charting New Territory

Credit - Tessie Girl
I recently finished A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and it's one of the best books I've read in a while.  It flows from one character to another in a kind of narrative relay.  At first it's disorienting and honestly I lost track of who the focus was or was supposed to be - the point, I think - and it required me to stop and start again once or twice.  The book also caroms from one era to another.  This narrative river just flows along and then washes ashore deep in the future, providing a brief, sober glimpse of the fate of the character we follow, before retreating back to the sea of the present. 

At some point you almost long for a chart mapping out all these people, these places and times, and then as if on queue, Egan actually depicts an entire sequence of the book in a succession of flow charts.  I wa struck at how effective, and affecting, this was; the PowerPoint slides gradually became thought bubbles, accumulating tension and drama as they chart the uncertainty of a young girl living in the desert of the future, struggling to understand her father, himself at a loss on how to cope with his son.  Children at a loss could be another title for this book, really.  The dexterity Egan employs in this sequence and all throughout the book really speaks volumes to the possibility of the novel.  Especially now in this digital age, the boundaries of fiction blur; so much of the advice and tutorials I see for beginning writers have to do with either how to sell something or how to write to sell.  Sentence structure.  Choosing the right perspective.  All these things are important.

What interests me more - and hopefully does you too - is not what's to be done within the form, but with the form itself.  The novel evolves with every generation, and has seen many iterations in the last 50 years; the digital era will push it even further.  A Visit From The Goon Squad is one example of what's possible, and inspiration to push your own work to the limit.