(finally finished with “A Visit from the Goon Squad”)
Debby: This is one of the more inconsequential things I noticed in the book, but I was particularly pleased with the author for it. To begin the Goon Squad with Sasha, the compulsive thief, and closing (well, second- and third-to-last-chapters) with both her past and her future felt very cohesive. In a book where everything felt like a short story, I thought these chapters built on each other extremely well. She turned to thievery out of desperation in her younger years, out of compulsion in her mid-life, and as a mother she turned other people’s “junk” into art. We’ll never know if her art in the desert was made of stolen goods or simply discarded wares– but we can assume that it takes on the same role in her life.
Tim: It’s funny, because it’s now a week or two after I read this chapter, and I can’t remember if I ever directly made the connection to Sasha or not. She certainly wasn’t what stuck out to me most about the story. But now that you mention it, yeah, that is really, really cool. The daughter (Ally?) can’t understand her mother’s artistic compulsions, but to us they make total sense. I like how Egan weaves through time from chapter to chapter. And you know what’s really weird? I never saw any rhyme or reason to how she transitioned from chapter to chapter, both with which character took center stage and at what time the chapter was set, but none of them ever seemed out of place to me. I guess to a large extent this is a function of the book’s structure, but I’d be really curious to know how much the chapter order got changed around during the editorial process. Would it have had a different effect to see this side of Sasha, say, before the kleptomaniac side?
Debby: Part of me wonders if Egan actually wanted the reader to make the “Sasha” connection. As in- each chapter holds it own in a way that makes it almost unimportant to the work as a whole. But I must say: I felt a sense of pleasure when I recognized the mom and thief as one and the same. So the author certainly rewards the reader for paying attention. The background (and forward-ground?) certainly add to the character, too.
Tim: Without a doubt. Again, though, one of my biggest curiosities as we’ve gone through this book has been about how the whole thing would tie together. There’s a rough march through history, certainly, but the book is also jumpy about where it inserts certain pieces. Like we see Bennie divorced from Stephanie in the second chapter, but then we see that relationship progress later on in the book. It actually made the book feel just a little bit incomplete to me, because I didn’t feel like we’d wrapped up many of the characters we’d spent time with. Which I suppose is part of the point; we don’t get to see how it ends for everyone, and that’s how time works in our own lives. We get to be retrospective about these small periods of the characters’ lives, but then we’re off to something else before they can even nail down what each event meant to them.
Debby: Hmm. I see what you mean. The thing is– I felt differently because of Sasha’s story. I felt like I got to see how events changed her and shaped her. How her choices affected not only her future, but the future of those around her (i.e. Bennie, Alex, Alison). It gave me a sense of fulfilment, if not exactly completion.
Tim: Yeah, she and Bennie kind of both get that. They’re the only two characters we see in more than two stages of life, I think.
Debby: Do you feel like the story is essentially about them? I think it is, a little bit.
Tim: I think it’s very hard to see the book as a whole being about anyone besides the two of them. Between the two of them, I think the only person they’re not directly connected to is Dolly, and Bennie is close there.
Debby: Speaking of lack of completion… how about we end this little chat?