Category: Short Story Collection

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Let’s take a look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Written as a collection of loosely-related short stories, the novel centers on two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha.

A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

Characters

As to be expected from a prize-winning novel, the characters are diverse and well-developed.  Because of the sheer numbers of characters and because they pop up here and there in the stories, I found creating a flow chart with names and role summaries helped keep them straight.

Sasha is a bright young woman with an interest in  music who also is a kleptomaniac. She works for Bennie, a big wig in the music industry who is struggling with his divorce from Stephanie. Stephanie works for Dolly at La Doll PR firm and her brother is Jules Jones, who attacked a young movie star named Kitty Jackson and was sent to prison. Later Dolly recruits Kitty to help clean up a bad guy’s image. Dolly’s daughter Lulu becomes Bennie’s assistant after Sasha leaves to marry Drew Blake. Yes, the stories are that convoluted.

solar panels

Setting

Most of the stories take place in New York City, but both the settings and timeline hop around.  In addition, some of the settings are more pronounced than others.  For example, Lou and his family go on safari in South Africa, which is described in detail. Toward the end Sasha ends up living in a “desert” next to some large solar arrays and her daughter describes it lyrically, but with only the briefest of phrases in a chapter that consists of the images of slides from a slideshow.

Symbolism and Subtle Messages

All the while the stories are skipping from place to place, the author is leaving clues and subtle messages. The reader has to be alert and observant to keep up. For example, when Dolly takes her daughter Lulu on a dangerous trip, Lulu bites into a starfruit, an act which is “ripe” with symbolism. Sasha’s relationship with her stepfather and uncle also suggested some deeper meaning, although the issue was always skirted. Alex, who never really caught on that Sasha had stolen a woman’s wallet during their date, is trapped in an apartment with a view that is being eclipsed by construction.

Discussion

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a multi-layered tapestry. It shows how lives can be intertwined and how acquaintances — the six degrees of separation idea — can lead to deeper connections to others. It also reveals how seemingly random encounters can drastically change lives.

Personally, I found it fun and exciting to read. I can’t imagine how Jennifer Egan kept all the different threads of stories straight while she was writing, but she does an amazing job. I will definitely read this book again and look for more novels by this author.

Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 89 Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

What the book is about:

In this collection of eight short stories the author explores how the lives of people are changed as they migrate from place to place, specifically from South Asia to America. She asks the question whether — as a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne suggests — people thrive when they “strike their roots into unaccustomed earth” instead of being “planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.”

Have you read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

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