The 2010 NBCC Fiction Award Winner:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
“A novel at once experimental in form and crystal clear in the overlapping stories it delivers, offering us a sense of youth and what gets lost along the way.” (NBCC Announces Award Winners)
Below, I’ve included a couple of excerpts from a great interview between Jane Ciabattari and the author Jennifer Egan entitled The Book on Aging Rockers which talks about Egan’s award winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad.
“I knew as far back as 2001 that I would write a book called A Visit From the Goon Squad, though I had no idea what kind of book it would be,” she explained. “As I worked on it, I kept wondering, ‘Who is the goon?’ I liked the sense that there were many answers. And then I found myself writing ‘Time is a goon,’ and realized that of course that’s true—time is the stealth goon, the one you ignore because you are so busy worrying about the goons right in front of you.”…
The first thing that struck me about A Visit from the Goon Squad is its fluid and sometimes circular sense of time. How did she decide on the structure?
“I had a different structural idea originally. My original plan was to have time move backward—I knew this idea wasn’t new (Charles Baxter does it beautifully in First Light) but still, that was the plan. Then I wrote ‘Pure Language,’ which takes place in the future and would have to come first, according to my ‘backwards chronology’ idea. But I knew that story would make a bad beginning for the book. So I adjusted my plan: I’d begin in the present, move farther and farther backward in time, and then leap into the future in the end with ‘Pure Language.’ But I found when I read the chapters in that order that it was flat, and the whole was absolutely less than the sum of the parts. So I ended up ordering the chapters more intuitively, using a completely different principle: Who is the person you’ve glimpsed from the corner of your eye in this chapter, and would be surprised and interested to find is the subject of the next chapter? That’s how it’s organized now.”
Egan says she had no particular models for her characters. But clearly she has done some thinking about the rapidly cycling life spans of pop artists, including writers. In a re-evaluation of Madonna for GQ a few years back, Egan wrote, “Remaining a pop phenomenon for 20 years without dying or lapsing into self-parody is quite a feat.” In Goon Squad, Bosco, a character contemplating a “suicide tour,” complains, “How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat f— no one cares about?” Although Madonna and a rare few others keep on coming around, time passing means most musical careers are dead-ended.
For another great interview with Egan about her award winning novel check out: Off the C(H)uff: Jennifer Egan Talks About A Visit From the Goon Squad by Patricia Zohn