(Two chapters into A Visit from the Goon Squad. Don’t judge us.)
Tim: Ok, so we are not yet very far into A Visit From the Goon Squad, so there’s a limit to the amount of stuff se can talk about. One thing that’s already really stood out to me, though, is the structure of the chapters. Each chapter takes on the perspective of a new character, one who is only tangentially related to the others, and moreover each chapter feels very complete. I mean, there’s more story that COULD be told, but there doesn’t necessarily need to be. Each chapter feels very much like a short story, the book thus far simply the collection. I’m really interested to see what the book does with this, and how I feel once (I’m guessing) we come back around to re-visit some of the same characters again.
Debby: Well “we” is not exactly the correct pronoun, Tim. “You” are only two chapters in and “I” read the book two years ago… and haven’t opened it since.
Tim: Fine. Be all technical about it.
Debby: I am just clarifying for our extensive readership. Anyways, to return to your original point, I completely agree with your take on the individual chapters reading as short stories. I particularly like the way the book starts: “It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel” (p.1). There’s something simplistic, yet fulfilling about this statement– and yet the following story is utterly surprising. we find out that Sasha, our protagonist, is a kleptomaniac. She gets a thrill from stealing people’s personal effects.
Tim: Yeah, I love how that’s handled. She’s talking about stealing a screwdriver from a plumber, and she goes on about how alluring the screwdriver is. But then as soon as the plumber leaves – nothing. It’s all this emotion that seems to tie back to the person, but it’s transferred into the object.
Debby: I just like how the present and past are interwoven so smoothly. We see Sasha inhabit her present date-scenario, but also get a glimpse at of her on the couch at her therapist’s office, and also interacting with the plumber. We get a very deep glance into the life of a character we have only just met, and are given a chance to understand her disorder from the moment we open the book.
Tim: Yes, exactly. But also we get to see enough of her, particularly through those bits with the therapist, to believe wholeheartedly that she’s a real, existent person. And that’s a huge part, I think, of why it felt so much like a short story to me. You don’t usually see novels give that much of one character so quickly. I’ve seen lots of short stories pull similar tricks, weaving back and forth between past and present from one character’s perspective. And I don’t mean that disparagingly towards the book. It’s really well done here, and I didn’t feel like it was a played out trick at all. It’s just a really unexpected one for a novel, so I’m super-excited to see where it goes with this idea.
Debby: Well, I hate to be a “spoiler” but…. your patience will be rewarded! Lots of characters/short-story-sequences to come. Maybe you won’t feel so thrilled when you get to the end of the 30th? But who knows?