Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
My friend Amy kindly lent me Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I continue to mull it over, especially that last sentence of the Proust quote that opens the book: “It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years.”
Egan’s book, like that sentence, does convoluted things with time, place, memory and even literature. Goon Squad isn’t exactly a novel, nor is it just a collection of stories, as she comments in an interview at Salon. It’s a sprawling, ambitious work that careens among characters, around the world and back and forth over time. Chapters are connected, sometimes just barely, but in a way that makes sense in our hyper-linked culture. Even in a chapter told in Power Point, the wildness makes sense; Egan has that much control over her material.
It opens with Sasha, one of the many engaging characters who come on and off stage throughout the book:
It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather.
Like Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, which I recently enjoyed, Egan is skilled at creating characters you want to meet again. While the structure is similar, with different character-based chapters, Egan’s book is vaster in both its reach and grasp, perhaps like the Proust novel that informed it.