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A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan: Book 18 of 2011 [Wow! It’s Wednesday]

For a while it felt like A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD was stalking me. My writing exchange partner, Gudrun Cram-Drach, kept on referencing it in different emails and comments before just flat out saying I should read it. Then I had brunch with Ryan Dixon, and he mentioned that someone who we both think has good taste loved it, so I told him I’d download the audiobook. No, I had to read it, he insisted, because he had heard that to understand its greatness the book had to be physically read. Then it kept winning just about every award out there, so I went on ahead and downloaded the ebook while I was on bedrest for IVF. Here are my thoughts:

What’s It About: This is one of those books that is insanely hard to summarize. It doesn’t help that I downloaded the e-book w/o reading the product description. Here’s the best I can do: Interlocking stories surrounding a group of connected people. It’s kind of like the idea of six degrees of separation — but in novel form and with really effed up people.

What Makes It Different: There aren’t very many novels out there that can’t be summed up in a few sentences or even tagged as a particular genre. GOON SQUAD is one of those novels that gets away with just about every thing writers are told we can’t get away with, including telling not showing, mercilessly playing with time, and making the reader read closely. If you try to skim through any part of this book, you’ll have to go back or be really confused.

What I Loved: GOON SQUAD certainly lives up to its hype. Its a tour-de-force of truly original writing and situations. Also, I didn’t know I had been longing for a novel in which almost every character with a speaking line gets resolved for better or for worse until I read this book. I found it immensely satisfying to know what happened to just about everyone and I fear it’s going to make me a bit of brat concerning other literary novels with characters that are left dangling. Most of all, I loved that you could tell that the author of this novel really enjoys her craft; the writing just sings, it’s so good.

What I Didn’t Like: I always have something I didn’t like — that’s kind of my policy. But in this case, I’m having a grasshopper moment, in which it wouldn’t feel right to pick at something written my someone who has mastered her craft in ways that I have not. Everything about this novel made me want to work even harder toward achieving my writing black belt. All I can say is, “Thank you.”

Writing Lessons Learned:

1. Take chances. Egan employs a few stunts that turn out spectacularly. I’m a huge fan of writers who stunt, because even if they fail, at least they’re taking chances. It occurs to me that writers should get crazier, as opposed to safer, as they go along.

2. Put in your 10,000 hours. I love this interview with Jennifer Egan, in which she talks about exactly how hard she had to work to become a “good” writer. A lot of trees died to turn Egan into Pulitzer-winning author, and they died for a very good cause.

3. Backstory is character. The fact that so many of Egan’s characters had both backstories and futurestories reminded me that it’s a good idea for authors to have a good grasp of every major character’s backstory, even if it doesn’t show up in the actual novel. Much like actors should know what their characters eats for breakfast, we should have a clear grasp of how our characters came to be our characters.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Amy Brown, Amy Robinson. Writers Who Dream About Pulitzers, Indie Music Lovers, Folks Raising Kids in New York, and Independent Movie Producers (this needs to be an indie so bad!).

Click on the book cover to buy A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD at Amazon!