Friday, June 24, 2011

Fragments of Music

"Time's a goon, right?" says a character in Jennifer Egan's remarkable book A Visit From The Goon Squad.  Time is one of many elements that Egan plays with, fragments, flips, turns back on itself.  I could describe this as a series of linked short stories, a common form in today's fiction, as in "The Imperfectionists" (Reporting From Rome) or "Great House" (Loss and Memory), but Egan's attempt is more ambitious. 

The book's thirteen chapters, divided into Part A and Part B like sides on an LP (showing my age with that reference), follow characters from the punk rock scene of San Francisco in the 70s, through the New York suburbs of the 90s, to a post-modern Manhattan, with side trips to Africa and Naples.  In each chapter the tone, the voice and the point of view change, as the stories move forward and backward in time in a discontinuous but not confusing flow.  Music, both the creative and business side, is an element in many of the stories, and I can easily imagine that someone could create a CD with a track for each chapter.  Characters appear as their young and older selves, overlapping with each other in unexpected ways.

Occasionally I thought that Egan tried to be a little too clever, but overall I was fascinated by the the complicated, interwoven lives of her characters. 

Note to e-readers:  There is a wonderful chapter created by a teenage girl as a Power Point slide show which you will need a magnifying glass to read.  But it's worth it.

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