“Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?”
Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.”
It’s hard to imagine that 2010 was 12 years ago. Instagram launched and was available on the first ever iPad. Flash mobs and Angry Birds were all the rave. And, 12 years ago today, Jennifer Egan published A Visit from the Goon Squad which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Time is such a confusing concept and nobody explains it better than Egan.
A collection of lifetimes
Multiple lives and short stories are interconnected into one narrative in A Visit from the Goon Squad. The main characters Sasha, Bennie, Scotty, Lou, Dolly, and many others create a diverse cast of characters in the music industry. None are truly the main character because this novel focuses on the narrative and the web of relationships that develop over the years.
In fact, that is the strange premise of this novel. The reader jumps timelines, piecing together these perspectives throughout the chapters to find the whole story. We watch over the 50 year time-lapse as these seemingly unrelated individuals are in a smaller world than they think. Whether through a one time date or life long friends, somehow everyone has connections to everyone else.
The novel focuses on themes of the chaos and superficiality of the music world, the toxic relationships within this industry and the way it affects everyone even remotely within its realm. Arguably, the most consistent theme drawn through A Visit from the Goon Squad is the concept of time. Each character is obsessed with and beaten up by time. Egan shows how time hurts and changes us all, relentless especially in entertainment.
Time is a goon
“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. REAL.”
“Sure, everything is ending,” Jules said. “But not yet.”
How apropos to compare life to a song. Egan speaks through a child in the above quote, describing the way sometimes life makes you feel like it is ending. The character Jules gives the reader hope: everything has to end but it isn’t ending yet. Still, time furthers the march towards that dastardly end.
The quote at the beginning of this article reinforces Egan’s woes. Time, or more perhaps accurately life, wears us down. Years of stress, of disappointments, and of unaccomplished dreams pummel us into submission until we become like Benny Salazar. We become disillusioned and trapped in the past which escapes us so quickly. Each of us fight the battle against “the goon”, the violent and harmful hands of age, and many of us lose this fight.
This is not a hopeless cause. Rather than ruing the day we eventually leave this world, Egan encourages us to enjoy every day we live. Bad days, the pauses in our song of life, are inevitable. But those pauses don’t last very long and they are not the final end. We can still keep listening.
The 21st century
Our individual songs continue on resiliently but the music industry’s songs are going downhill, says Egan. The last chapter discusses how music is no longer for the sound but for the reach. In 2020, the near future for when this was written, producers only want to use electronic music and copy popular songs to get more listens.
Is this accurate to today’s music industry? Was Egan accurate in her premonition that in the 21st century, all songs are just “shit” automated beats with sampled lyrics? This is entirely dependent on opinion. However, she made many scary predictions, such as the concept of smartphones she termed “handsets.” Egan also rightly hypothesized the way music marketing turned away from design and word of mouth to digital pieces in everyone’s ear.
For someone so interested in time and how it changes individuals, Egan was eerily accurate in seeing how time changes societies as well. A Visit from the Goon Squad speaks volumes of truth in both these areas, hitting home for readers even 12 years later. Pick up the book this June to see the brilliance in the disjointed stories and how Egan pulls it all together in the end. Afterwards, you can go on to read other novels by authors in the music industry. For instance, read our article about Jack Kerouac and his musical influence.