From the Publisher
Jennifer Egan's spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the
lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record
executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he
employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's
pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret
lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with
theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San
Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist's couch
in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to
steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her
as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in
Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal
impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings
and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead
marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city's
demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a
sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet
Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life-divorced,
struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a
washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house-and then revisit
him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling
in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock
and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of
his high school gang-who thrived and who faltered-and we encounter
Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with
the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung
sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of
time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and
transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing
conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and
tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures
the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or
succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the
universal tendency to reach for both-and escape the merciless
progress of time-in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly,
startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
About the Author
Jennifer Egan is the author of The Keep, Look
at Me, The Invisible Circus, and the story collection
Emerald City. Her stories have been published in The
New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope, All-Story, and
Ploughshares, and her nonfiction appears frequently in
The New York Times Magazine. She lives with her husband
and sons in Brooklyn.
is the author of The Keep, Look
at Me, The Invisible Circus,
and the story collection
Her stories have been published in The
New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope, All-Story,
and her nonfiction appears frequently in
The New York Times Magazine.
She lives with her husband
and sons in Brooklyn.
1. A Visit from the Goon Squad shifts among various
perspectives, voices, and time periods, and in one striking chapter
(pp. 176-251), departs from conventional narrative entirely. What
does the mixture of voices and narrative forms convey about the
nature of experience and the creation of memories? Why has Egan
arranged the stories out of chronological sequence?
2. In "A to B" Bosco unintentionally coins the phrase "Time's a
goon" (p. 96), used again by Bennie in "Pure Language" (p.269).
What does Bosco mean? What does Bennie mean? What does the author
3. "Found Objects" and "The Gold Cure" include accounts of
Sasha's and Bennie's therapy sessions. Sasha picks and chooses what
she shares: "She did this for Coz's protection and her own-they
were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second
chances" (p. 7). Bennie tries to adhere to a list of no-no's his
shrink has supplied (pp. 18-19). What do the tone and the content
of these sections suggest about the purpose and value of therapy?
Do they provide a helpful perspective on the characters?
4. Lou makes his first appearance in "Ask Me If I Care" (pp.
30-44) as an unprincipled, highly successful businessman; "Safari"
(pp. 45-63) provides an intimate, disturbing look at the way he
treats his children and lover; and "You (Plural)" (pp. 64-69)
presents him as a sick old man. What do his relationships with Rhea
and Mindy have in common? To what extent do both women accept (and
perhaps encourage) his abhorrent behavior, and why to they do so?
Do the conversations between Lou and Rolph, and Rolph's
interactions with his sister and Mindy, prepare you for the tragedy
that occurs almost twenty years later? What emotions does Lou's
afternoon in "You (Plural)" with Jocelyn and Rhea provoke? Is he
basically the same person he was in the earlier chapters?
5. Why does Scotty decide to get in touch with Bennie? What
strategies do each of them employ as they spar with each other? How
does the past, including Scotty's dominant role in the band and his
marriage to Alice, the girl both men pursued, affect the balance of
power? In what ways is Scotty's belief that "one key ingredient of
so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and
special, that those included in it are privileged and those
excluded from it are missing out" (p. 74) confirmed at the meeting?
Is their reunion in "Pure Language" a continuation of the pattern
set when they were teenagers, or does it reflect changes in their
fortunes as well as in the world around them?
6. Sasha's troubled background comes to light in "Good-bye, My
Love" (p. 157). Do Ted's recollections of her childhood explain
Sasha's behavior? To what extent is Sasha's "catalog of woes"
representative of her generation as a whole? How do Ted's feelings
about his career and wife color his reactions to Sasha? What does
the flash-forward to "another day more than twenty years after this
one" (p. 175) imply about the transitory moments in our
7. Musicians, groupies, and entertainment executives and
publicists figure prominently in A Visit from the Goon
Squad. What do the careers and private lives of Bennie, Lou,
and Scotty ("X's and O's"; "Pure Language"); Bosco and Stephanie
("A to B"); and Dolly ("Selling the General") suggest about
American culture and society over the decades? Discuss how specific
details and cultural references (e.g., names of real people, bands,
and venues) add authenticity to Egan's fictional creations.
8. The chapters in this book can be read as stand-alone stories.
How does this affect the reader's engagement with individual
characters and the events in their lives? Which characters or
stories did you find the most compelling? By the end, does
everything fall into place to form a satisfying storyline?
9. Read the quotation from Proust that Egan uses as an epigraph
(p. vii). How do Proust's observations apply to A Visit from
the Goon Squad? What impact
do changing times and different contexts have on
how the characters perceive and present themselves? Are the
attitudes and actions of some characters more consistent than
others, and if so, why?
10. In a recent interview Egan said, "I think anyone who's
writing satirically about the future of American life often looks
prophetic. . . . I think we're all part of the zeitgeist and we're
all listening to and absorbing the same things, consciously or
unconsciously. . . ." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 8,
2010). Considering current social trends and political realities,
including fears of war and environmental devastation, evaluate the
future Egan envisions in "Pure Language" and "Great Rock and Roll
11. What does "Pure Language" have to say about authenticity in
a technological and digital age? Would you view the response to
Bennie, Alex, and Lulu's marketing venture differently if the
musician had been someone other than Scotty Hausmann and his slide
guitar? Stop/Go (from "The Gold Cure"), for example?
About the Book
From one of today's boldest writers comes a sly, surprising, and exhilarating novel about time, survival, and the electrifying sparks ignited at the seams of our lives by colliding destinies.