A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

There is some semantic debate whether this is a collection of stories involving the same characters or a multilinear novel, but either way you decide to categorize it, the book involves one network of characters over a long period of time. The beginning skips back and forth in the past until a certain point where it charges into the future — i. e., into the 2020s. Egan makes enough casual references to major events during the different time periods to allow her to paint the future in the same cursory way, suggesting the ways the world has evolved without going into big details in order not to distract what has happened with the characters. The stories/chapters are also tied together through similar themes and imagery — like when one chapter ends with a brief observation of people playing tennis and then the next one turns out to feature tennis significantly — so the transitions between them aren’t as jarring as you may expect.

The shifting perspectives create this situation where you see characters from all these different angles, yet none of the individual narratives are fully omniscient and nothing ever quite feels like the present. Everyone is always looking back, trying to figure out how they got where they are, as time keeps driving on. I’m still unsure how I feel about the character who narrates her chapter through a long PowerPoint presentation, but at least the last chapter wasn’t entirely written in the texting language people use to communicate with on their devices (sometimes when they’re actually in the same room). The future she suggests is disturbing in how possible it is.

See also: Three chapters of this book were published as fiction pieces in The New Yorker:Found Objects,” “Safari,” and “Ask Me If I Care.” The PPT slide chapter is available on Egan’s site.