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Summary

Jennifer Egan's spellbinding audiobook circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an ageing former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, the listener does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-30s, on her therapist's couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend.

We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life - divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house - and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, revelling in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardour for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent.

We learn what became of his high school gang - who thrived and who faltered - and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both - and escape the merciless progress of time - in the transporting realms of art and music. A sly, startling and exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2011 Jennifer Egan (P)2017 Little, Brown Book Group

What listeners say about A Visit from the Goon Squad

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I really didn't like this book

One of those books which was a complete chore and I had to abandon it

3 people found this helpful

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Good, but a bit too many (very well chosen) words

This is obviously a well written book, but it just goes on a bit and is ultimately about nothing much. Nonetheless it held my attention however what I take to be the powerpoint section-more particularly the lists, was really boring and what was the point of it-autistic people like lists so what?

2 people found this helpful

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Dreary

Good writing but story is contrived and difficult to follow. Enjoyed it enormously in parts, but it just does not hang together as a story

1 person found this helpful

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loved it!

The book has the simple structure of a series of stories featuring a cast of characters, all told from different perspectives. The stories move forward and backward in time and together create a portrait life and the music industry in the late 20th and early 21st C with a glimpse of a possible future. The book is beautifully written and captures portraits of individuals and significant moments in their lives with sharp clarity and a perceptive warmth and dry humour.

1 person found this helpful

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A challenge due to its structure but it is also one of the more interesting and inventive books that I’ve listen to

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a collection of thirteen interrelated stories about a group of characters set around the music industry. At the centre of these characters is Bennie Salazar, a record company executive. These stories were originally published in magazines such as The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine, so the first question here is, is it a anthology of short stories or is it a novel? Egan said that ‘she considers the book to be neither a story collection nor a novel.’ The stories do work individually but work better when read together, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

The stories are not told in chronological order, they shift back and forth from the present to the 1970’s and even into the future, and the narrative style is unusual. It switches back and forth from first person to second person to third person, from narrative to magazine article and even a power point presentation. Then you have changes in language to represent the times, cultures and characters involved. All this enhances the story making for an interesting and unique read, however it also makes it a difficult read. You don’t have the easy flow of a regular story arc for a start.

One of the central themes here is music, Egan uses music and it’s attached cultures to represent changing times and attitudes. Once someone ages in the music industry they are no longer appreciated due to changes in collective tastes. As Bosco complains “How did I go from being a rock star to being a fat fuck no one cares about?” He also declares “Times a goon.” A sentiment that’s backed up by Egan who concludes that "time is the stealth goon, the one you ignore because you are so busy worrying about the goons right in front of you. These statements refer to the title of the book. Goon squads were originally groups of violent thugs used to assault workers who were trying to form Unions. After that it became a general term for a violent person. Egan uses the individual stories here to move back and forth through the years to emphasise how we get from the person we used to be to the person we become.

The stories themselves vary in interest and quality. The first four “Found Objects”, “The Gold Cure”, “Ask Me If I Care" and “Safari"are all brilliant. They also introduce some well drawn colourful characters such as Sasha, a kleptomaniac, and Bennie with his labido problem (I particularly liked Bennie a former punk rocker with the band ‘Flaming Dildo”). Some however such as ‘Forty Minute Lunch’ and ‘You (plural)” didn’t hold my interest as much as others. Although they do add to the overall story and ‘Forty Minute Lunch’ does have an interesting conclusion. “Selling the General" which is about a washed up publicist and a former starlet being employed by a murderous dictator to ‘soften up’ his image is the most bizarre story here but its black humour also makes it one of the more entertaining. The most inventive story here is “ Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Alison Blake" which depicts a dysfunctional family though the pauses in songs and is told as a power point presentation. It might seem a bit gimmicky but it’s an original way of illustrating the use of modern technology in all aspects of our lives.

It is difficult to review A Visit From the Goon Squad without looking at the stories individually, however as I have said the whole is greater than its parts, it’s a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle, the picture doesn’t fully reveal itself until the last piece is in place. In this way you also build up a more complete picture of each character and how events in their lives told in these stories contributes to the make up of their characters.

In conclusion A Visit From the Goon Squad is a challenging read due to its structure but it is also one of the more interesting and inventive books that I’ve read. It has its weaknesses and some of the stories are less interesting or entertaining than others but they’re all essential to the whole.

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  • WP
  • 11-08-22

Boring

I found it so often too repetitive and uninteresting that i struggle to listen to this book.

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intriguing, funny, sad, clever.

apart from the really annoying PowerPoint chapter, loved this. each character deserved there own book, but the fleeting glimpses of their lives became so enticing when they pop up again, sometimes as an aside in someone else elses tale. I shall be thinking about this book for some time. now off to radio 4 to hear the author talking to an audience about how she writes.

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Outstanding

Can’t imagine how anyone can give this less than five stars. Incredibly clever and well written.

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what is the point of this book?

i tried, but could not finish. this book feels like the author had scraps of stories and unused characters and decided to cram them into one book like a dinner party meal made from leftovers and what's in the cupboard. It would of worked with the right flavour and skill to tie them together, but no!
There were some genuinely great moments, then, WHAT WAS THAT!? No point. No plot. Confusion.
Nice try but no.

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A really intriguing narrative.

This book, a pseudo novel presented as short stories that loosely tie together as one complete whole, is glorious. Incredibly well written and planned out perfectly.
The performance of the reader is very good, with only a few minor niggles in delivery here and there.
Highly recommend.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-08-22

Disappointing and disingenuous

I kept reading because I kept hoping it would get better. But it didn't.
The storyline was implausible and the content/message was a sad and uninspiring reflection on the emptiness of some people's lives.

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  • Karen McCarthy / Brenda Dass
  • 05-07-20

Well. That was annoying.

Interesting enough sometimes, but meandering and purposeless, and ultimately disappointing. Some good writing elevates it sometimes, but I wouldn’t choose to listen to this if I was better informed.

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  • Yaelon
  • 14-12-18

annoying narration

this isn't supposed to be a bedtime reading to a toddler - why did the narrator choose to "make voices". it made the whole story ridiculous most of the time and really hurt my listening experience.

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  • Ronit
  • 25-02-18

the best book so far

What other book might you compare A Visit from the Goon Squad to and why?

This read reminded me of Joyce's "Dubliners". So much depth, compassion, and sensitivity towards her characters. The narration was absolutely superb. I still can't move on to my next book.