Times collide in modern Goon show
the narration is handed to his ex-lover Jocelyn, who was adored by Scotty, who was estranged from Bennie when Bennie was married to Stephanie, who worked for Dolly, whose daughter Lulu will one day work with Bennie, who will say about Lulu ‘‘ One day she’s gonna run the world’’ — this begins the jigsaw. The scene is laid in New York, the milieu is the music industry.
Time is the goon of Egan’s title. ‘‘ The goon won,’’ says a character who has difficulty assimilating a change of fortune into his life of disappointments. Sasha, at 35, longs to do something better with herself, to say: ‘‘ It was a turning point, everything feels different now.’’ Time may be rocketing past, but success and love approach too slowly.
Late in the book we find a chapter that takes the form of PowerPoint slides. Here the point of view belongs to a 12-year-old named Alison. One of her slides is titled: ‘‘ What I suddenly understand’’. Another page relays a knotty conversation about her autistic brother, and is titled ‘‘ Dad, to Mom, whispering under the music (but I can hear him)’’. Alison’s slides have a theatrical quality but amount to an unexpectedly serious spectacle. At 70 pages the PowerPoint sequence is overlong.
The best chapter follows a rakish Lou on safari in Kenya. He takes along his young son, Rolph: ‘‘ If he were an introspective man, he would have understood years ago that his son is the one person in the world with the power to soothe him. And that, while he expects Rolph to be like him, what he most enjoys in his son are the many ways he is different: quiet, reflective, attuned to the natural world and the pain of others.’’
Such observations, and they count among the novel’s best qualities, are further darkened by the narrator’s interjections about the future: in the midst of their holiday we learn about the falling out between father and son many years later, leading to Rolph’s early death. Much of what Egan does well is evident in this chapter, in particular her ability to develop a memorable character by moving swiftly between his past, present, and the story of his life to come.
As the scene continues to shift, the novel somehow gathering momentum as it gains in population, I began each chapter wondering what became of the figures who dropped away. If the animating question for Egan’s people is: ‘‘ What happened between A and B?’’, then for readers it might be ‘‘ How did things turn out for Bennie and Co?’’ Egan completes their storylines in convergences between the narratives; with these effects she catches the interconnectedness of lives and builds a whole from many parts.
Goon Squad is winning prizes, including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and has brought Egan a much larger readership, which she deserves. This is an exciting book about youth and old friendships. Andrew Pippos is a journalist on The Australian.