Times col­lide in mod­ern Goon show

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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.

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