Monday, July 5, 2010

A Great Visit

I remember reading reviews of Jennifer Egan's Look At Me back in the early part of the decade and thinking that the book sounded interesting. I never did get around to picking it up and don't remember seeing Egan's name again, though I probably should have based on what I'm now learning about her novel The Keep. All of this is prelude to talking about her new novel, A Visit From the Good Squad, which I recently read.

The first chapter introduces us to Sasha, who is out on a date and trying not to succumb to her kleptomaniac tendencies. She is smart and funny and damaged. This chapter hooks you in immediately. None of the rest of the novel is told from her point-of-view and it works wonderfully.

This book continues a trend I've been noticing in fiction lately - that of the mosaic novel. It's not quite a series of linked short stories that make up a novel but instead chapters giving us different character viewpoints that all have links to one another. Yeah, the distinction isn't a big one. Recent example of this approach include Let the World Spin by Colum McCann (which I loved) and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (which I read and enjoyed well enough earlier this year).

Throughout the course of the book we learn about Sasha's former boss, Bennie Salazar and his friends from high school. We meet Bennie's mentor in the music business and Bennie's wife and son. We see Sasha's uncle in Naples "searching" for Sasha and Sasha's college best friend who comes to a tragic end. These are all in different time periods. Near the end of the book there is a 50 page plus section that is a Power Point presentation. It is set in the near future and the Power Point is written by Sasha's 12 year-old daughter about her family. Amazingly, this section is just as effective as the rest written in straight prose and renders insight in a new way. Bravo.

The novel isn't just tied together through Sasha either. We have a similarity of themes - ideas of how structure informs personality, questions of identity, the passage of time, the quest for meaning. I'm just scratching the surface here too. A closer re-read would yield a much more in-depth analysis.

I really liked this book and I can't recommend it enough. I will definitely be delving into the rest of Egan's work as well.

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