Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' - Discussion Questions

Jennifer Egan
(1962 - Present)

Egan's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' won both the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ received glowing reviews from critics, and went on to win coveted literary awards. What is your view of this book with its assortment of edgy characters whose stories interlace and overlap one another? Did you feel it was coherent as a novel, or was it more like a collection of short stories? In your opinion, did the inventive techniques used by the author add to the book’s appeal, or bog it down?

When we first meet Sasha, she tells her date, “I’m always happy…Sometimes I just forget.” Is this an accurate description of her? In the same chapter, we see her ‘writing [her] story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances’. Do you feel that she got that second chance? Is it possible for someone with a chronic compulsion like hers to ever give up their self-destructive behavior; in short, by the end of the book do you think she’s cured of her kleptomania?

The reader’s introduction to Bennie Salazar finds him awash in ‘shame memories’. Why is Bennie subjecting himself to reliving his most humiliating moments? What was your impression of Bennie upon reading this chapter? Does that impression change after the subsequent chapters when we see him in other stages of his life? Scotty Hausmann and Bennie started their musical adventure together. How did they end up on such divergent paths? What is Bennie’s motivation in trying to resuscitate Scotty’s (non-existent) career?

Sasha and Bennie are the connecting threads in this novel. Discuss some of the other characters/story lines that caught your interest.

Though the book’s setting is mostly New York, the plot takes us to Africa, Italy, and San Francisco among other places. Does this add to the narrative’s interest or detract from it? What has the author achieved by her use of such varied locations?

Egan has said about her technique in this book that she wanted to avoid ‘centrality’. How well has she done that with her use of shifting perspectives? In another example of her break with conventional story-telling, in a particular chapter, Egan continues her narrative with a power-point presentation. How well did this method work for you? Did it enhance the story?

One of the most arresting qualities to this novel is Egan’s capture of our consciousness of time, or more precisely our sense of the passing of time; and our own inability to stop it, slow it down, or turn back the clock. Do you think the author has been successful in her attempt?

Most of the characters in this book are involved with music in a personal and/or professional way. Why do you think Music has been given so much significance here?

Twice in this novel, Time is compared to a ‘goon’, a thug who robs you of your youth first and foremost, but also strips you of other aspects of your being. Certainly some characters in this novel lose with aging, while others change in ways they don’t expect. What is your personal perception of Time?

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