Looking for something unusual to read this summer?  Shannon Ross, our newest contributor shares her impressions of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan.

The Pulitzer committee described A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (the 2011 winner in the fiction category) as “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.”  With that description, I was in, and ready for an interesting read.

The novel features Bennie, a musician-turned-music-producer involved in the punk rock scene, as well as Sasha, his assistant (and interesting character in her own right). These multi-dimensional characters are developed through a series of episodes scattered across multiple decades and locations. Other characters are interwoven throughout the chapters with varying levels of development, on occasion reappearing at times one might not expect. Although the episodes are not chronological, by the middle I was eager to find connections between each chapter, and at the end I felt that I knew these characters quite well.

I particularly enjoyed the brief glimpses into the near future, complete with environmental and technological developments extrapolated from current trends. Others may enjoy delving further into punk rock’s development from onset through the present, as well as Egan’s coverage of the music industry over this time.

Egan refers to the book, which has been described as experimental, as “entangled stories.” While the book is a mixture of novel and short story, from my (perhaps unsophisticated) perspective I didn’t find the structure at all difficult to follow, or dramatically outside the box.

The main exception to this of course is the chapter presented as a PowerPoint slideshow. Like other readers, I found that chapter to be an interesting element of the book, and I was satisfied that it blended well with the overall storytelling and did not detract from the theme just for the sake of being experimental. The only downside of the chapter was the fact that those 40 pages went by entirely too quickly, and perhaps also the strange looks I received from the other patrons of the DMV where I happened to be reading that part!

FYI for those Kindle readers out there, I have heard that the slideshow is difficult to make out on the reader, which I admit gave me a brief moment of satisfaction that I am still behind the times in not owning a reader. However, the presentation is also available on Egan’s website complete with audio of the songs referenced in the chapter, which serves as an interesting enhancement, particularly for those who may not be familiar with all the songs mentioned.

On the heels of Egan’s Pulitzer win it was also announced that the rights to the book have been purchased by HBO for a television series, so you may be hearing more about this book in the near future. In the meantime, I would definitely recommend picking up the novel either for you or to read with others, as this book and its characters will spark some lively conversations.

-Shannon Ross, Regular Contributor