“Pitch perfect. . . . Darkly, rippingly funny. . . . Egan possesses a satirist’s eye and a romance novelist’s heart.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“At once intellectually stimulating and moving. . . . Like a masterful album, this one demands a replay.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“A new classic of American fiction.”
“A spiky, shape-shifting new book. . . . A display of Egan’s extreme virtuosity.”
—The New York Times
“Wildly ambitious. . . . A tour de force. . . . Music is both subject and metaphor as Egan explores the mutability of time, destiny, and individual accountability post-technology.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“The smartest book you can get your hands on.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A rich and unforgettable novel about decay and endurance, about individuals in a world as it changes around them. . . . [Egan] is one of the most talented writers today.”
—The New York Review of Books
“It ends in the same place it starts, except that everything has changes, including you, the reader.”
—The New Republic
“Clever. Edgy. Groundbreaking. . . . Features characters about whom you come to care deeply as you watch them doing things they shouldn't, acting gloriously, infuriatingly human.”
—The Chicago Tribune
“Egan’s bravura fifth book samples from different eras (the glory days of punk; a slick, socially networked future) and styles (sly satire, moving tragedy, even PowerPoint) to explore the interplay between music and the rough rhythms of life.”
“Told with both affection and intensity, Goon Squad stands as a brilliant, all-absorbing novel for the beach, the woods, the air-conditioned apartment or the city stoop while wearing your iPod. Stay with this one.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered
“Brilliant, inventive. . . . Emboldening. It cracks the world open afresh. . . . Would that Marcel Proust could receive [a copy]. It would blow his considerable mind. . . . Expect to inhale Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. Then expect it to lodge in your cranium and your breastbone a good long while.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Frequently dazzling. . . . Egan’s expert flaying of human foibles has the compulsive allure of poking at a sore tooth: excruciating but exhilarating too.”
“If Egan is our reward for living through the self-conscious gimmicks and ironic claptrap of postmodernism, then it was all worthwhile. . . . [A] triumph of technical bravado and tender sympathy. . . . Turn up the music, skip the college reunion and curl up with The Goon Squad instead.”
—The Washington Post
“A Visit From the Goon Squad should cement [Egan’s] reputation as one of America’s best, and least predictable, literary novelists.”
—Taylor Antrim, The Daily Beast
“Brilliantly structured. . . . We are pulled right in. . . . [Egan is] a boldly intellectual writer who is not afraid to apply her equally powerful intuitive skills to her ambitious projects.”
“This is art at its best—as a bulwark against the goon, as it embodies everything at once.”
—Austin American Statesman
“An exhilarating, big-hearted, three-headed beast of a story. . . . We see ourselves in all of Egan’s characters because their stories of heartbreak and redemption seem so real they could be our own, regardless of the soundtrack. Such is the stuff great novels are made of.”
“For all its postmodern flourishes, Goon Squad is as traditional as a Dickens novel. . . . [Egan’s] aim is not so much to explode traditional storytelling as to explore how it responds to the pressures and opportunities of the digital age.”
“Egan has accomplished the tricky feat of using metafiction techniques without sacrificing old-fashioned story-telling. . . . A Visit from the Goon Squad has a circuitous structure that seems almost designed for our Internet rewired brains.”
—The Wall Street Journal
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.
Visit the Jennifer Egan’s official website: www.jenniferegan.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag
on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman
whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. But this wish only camouflaged the deeper feeling Sasha always had: that at, tender wallet, offering itself to her hand-it seemed so dull, so life-as-usual to just leave it there rather than seize the moment, accept the challenge, take the leap, fly the coop, throw caution to the wind, live dangerously ("I get it," Coz, her therapist, said), and take the fucking thing.
"You mean steal it."
He was trying to get Sasha to use that word, which was harder to avoid in the case of a wallet than with a lot of the things she'd lifted over the past year, when her condition (as Coz referred to it) had begun to accelerate: five sets of keys, fourteen pairs of sunglasses, a child's striped scarf, binoculars, a cheese grater, a pocketknife, twenty-eight bars of soap, and eighty-five pens, ranging from cheap ballpoints she'd used to sign debit-card slips to the aubergine Visconti that cost two hundred sixty dollars online, which she'd lifted from her former boss's lawyer during a contracts meeting. Sasha no longer took anything from stores-their cold, inert goods didn't tempt her. Only from people.
"Okay," she said. "Steal it."
Sasha and Coz had dubbed that feeling she got the "personal challenge," as in: taking the wallet was a way for Sasha to assert her toughness, her individuality. What they needed to do was switch things around in her head so that the challenge became not taking the wallet but leaving it. That would be the cure, although Coz never used words like "cure." He wore funky sweaters and let her call him Coz, but he was old school inscrutable, to the point where Sasha couldn't tell if he was gay or straight, if he'd written famous books, or if (as she sometimes suspected) he was one of those escaped cons who impersonate surgeons and wind
up leaving their operating tools inside people's skulls. Of course, these questions could have been resolved on Google in less than a minute, but they were useful questions (according to Coz), and so far, Sasha had resisted.
The couch where she lay in his office was blue leather and very soft. Coz liked the couch, he'd told her, because it relieved them both of the burden of eye contact. "You don't like eye contact?" Sasha had asked. It seemed like a weird thing for a therapist to admit.
"I find it tiring," he'd said. "This way, we can both look where we want."
"Where will you look?"
He smiled. "You can see my options."
"Where do you usually look? When people are on the couch."
"Around the room," Coz said. "At the ceiling. Into space."
"Do you ever sleep?"
Sasha usually looked at the window, which faced the street, and tonight, as she continued her story, was rippled with rain. She'd glimpsed the wallet, tender and overripe as a peach. She'd plucked it from the woman's bag and slipped it into her own small handbag, which she'd zipped shut before the sound of peeing had stopped. She'd flicked open the bathroom door and floated back through the lobby to the bar. She and the wallet's owner had never seen each other.
Prewallet, Sasha had been in the grip of a dire evening: lame date (yet another) brooding behind dark bangs, sometimes glancing at the flat-screen TV, where a Jets game seemed to interest him more than Sasha's admittedly overhandled tales of Bennie Salazar, her old boss, who was famous for founding the Sow's Ear record label and who also (Sasha happened to know) sprinkled gold flakes into his coffee-as an aphrodisiac, she suspected-and sprayed pesticide in his armpits.
Postwallet, however, the scene tingled with mirthful possibility. Sasha felt the waiters eyeing her as she sidled back to the table holding her handbag with its secret weight. She sat down and took a sip of her Melon Madness Martini and cocked her head at Alex. She smiled her yes/no smile. "Hello," she said.
The yes/no smile was amazingly effective.
"You're happy," Alex said.
"I'm always happy," Sasha said. "Sometimes I just forget."
Alex had paid the bill while she was in the bathroom-clear proof that he'd been on the verge of aborting their date. Now he studied her. "You feel like going somewhere else?"
They stood. Alex wore black cords and a white button-up shirt. He was a legal secretary. On e-mail he'd been fanciful, almost goofy, but in person he seemed simultaneously anxious and bored. She could tell that he was in excellent shape, not from going to the gym but from being young enough that his body was still imprinted with whatever sports he'd played in high school and college. Sasha, who was thirty-five, had passed that point. Still, not even Coz knew her real age. The closest anyone had come to guessing it was thirty-one, and most put her in her twenties. She worked out daily and avoided the sun. Her online profiles all listed her as twenty-eight.
As she followed Alex from the bar, she couldn't resist unzipping her purse and touching the fat green wallet just for a second, for the contraction it made her feel around her heart.
"You're aware of how the theft makes you feel," Coz said. "To the point where you remind yourself of it to improve your mood. But do you think about how it makes the other person feel?"
Sasha tipped back her head to look at him. She made a point of doing this now and then, just to remind Coz that she wasn't an idiot-she knew the question had a right answer. She and Coz were collaborators, writing a story whose end had already been determined: she would get well. She would stop stealing from people and start caring again about the things that had once guided her: music; the network of friends she'd made when she first came to New York; a set of goals she'd scrawled on a big sheet of newsprint and taped to the walls of her early apartments:
Find a band to manage
Understand the news
Practice the harp
"I don't think about the people," Sasha said.
"But it isn't that you lack empathy," Coz said. "We know that, because of the plumber."
Sasha sighed. She'd told Coz the plumber story about a month ago, and he'd found a way to bring it up at almost every session since. The plumber was an old man, sent by Sasha's landlord to investigate a leak in the apartment below hers. He'd appeared in Sasha's doorway, tufts of gray on his head, and within a minute-boom-he'd hit the floor and crawled under her bathtub like an animal fumbling its way into a familiar hole. The fingers he'd groped toward the bolts behind the tub were grimed to cigar stubs, and reaching made his sweatshirt hike up, exposing a soft white back. Sasha turned away, stricken by the old man's abasement, anxious to leave for her temp job, except that the plumber was talking to her, asking about the length and frequency of her showers. "I never use it," she told him curtly. "I shower at the gym." He nodded without acknowledging her rudeness, apparently used to it. Sasha's nose began to prickle; she shut her eyes and pushed hard on both temples.
Opening her eyes, she saw the plumber's tool belt lying on the floor at her feet. It had a beautiful screwdriver in it, the orange translucent handle gleaming like a lollipop in its worn leather loop, the silvery shaft sculpted, sparkling. Sasha felt herself contract around the object in a single yawn of appetite; she needed to hold the screwdriver, just for a minute. She bent her knees and plucked it noiselessly from the belt. Not a bangle jangled; her bony hands were spastic at most things, but she was good at this-made for it, she often thought, in the first drifty moments after lifting something. And once the screwdriver was in her hand, she felt instant relief from the pain of having an old soft-backed man snuffling under her tub, and then something more than relief: a blessed indifference, as if the very idea of feeling pain over such a thing were baffling.
"And what about after he'd gone?" Coz had asked when Sasha told him the story. "How did the screwdriver look to you then?"
There was a pause. "Normal," she said.
"Really. Not special anymore?"
"Like any screwdriver."
Sasha had heard Coz shift behind her and felt something happen in the room: the screwdriver, which she'd placed on the table (recently supplemented with a second table) where she kept the things she'd lifted, and which she'd barely looked at since, seemed to hang in the air of Coz's office. It floated between them: a symbol.
"And how did you feel?" Coz asked quietly. "About having taken it from the plumber you pitied?"
How did she feel? How did she feel? There was a right answer, of course. At times Sasha had to fight the urge to lie simply as a way of depriving Coz of it.
"Bad," she said. "Okay? I felt bad. Shit, I'm bankrupting myself to pay for you-obviously I get that this isn't a great way to live."
More than once, Coz had tried to connect the plumber to Sasha's father, who had disappeared when she was six. She was careful not to indulge this line of thinking. "I don't remember him," she told Coz. "I have nothing to say." She did this for Coz's protection and her own- they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances. But in that direction lay only sorrow.
Sasha and Alex crossed the lobby of the Lassimo Hotel in the direct...