Speaking of English class, I love it when the books you read for assignments actually overcome the enormous burdens of reading logs and papers on the topic of thematic elements, and overturn the conventional status that a book you read in school will forever carry the bitter tang of education. Novels that can outlast the arduous efforts of your teachers to pick apart every string and stitch that holds the bindings of the book together, and cement themselves as a still-standing, solid journey. I love those.
Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad - though but a recent national bestseller and winner of both the N. Y. Times Best Book, as well as a little honor called the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011 - was a favorite of our ENG 111 TA, and found its way onto our syllabus simply on the grounds that it would provide insight into more contemporary literature, instead of a dust-covered something-or-other from the 19th century. While I was initially a little put off by his disregard for the classical works that I so enjoyed, I quickly understood his viewpoint upon reading the first few chapters: the book itself has no regard for chronology, either.
Let me explain: Egan's novel is an ensemble piece, focusing on the lives of two broken and brilliant New Yorkers, Bennie and Sasha, as well as the people who make up key parts of their lives. However, instead of following a linear or chronological pattern when discussing the interlocking group, Egan threads their stories together across the boundaries of time, traversing months, days, years and decades, to explore exactly how this seemingly unrelated cast came together. It's as if the entire book is a love letter to those six degrees that separate us from Kevin Bacon. It reinforces each of those chain links between us, that we may take for granted, and reminds us that strangers - or employees and bosses, girlfriends and one night stands, husbands and brothers and especially terrible fathers - may end up mattering more to us than we think, and we may still matter more to them.
In other words, if there was ever a book to remind you that every person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a family, a best friend, and especially a future, it's this one.
If I haven't already expressed the utter amazement I felt in traveling through the interlocking webs within this novel, then let me make myself abundantly clear: I love, love, love this book. It's real... the people within it are recognizable. That makes it a little scary sometimes, especially when these characters that you relate to and find familiar, do something terrible. Everyone is broken is some way, and each of the characters within the novel demonstrate some of those habits and issues that plague us all. And yet, instead of dwelling in darkness for the full novel, the end notes that tinge each story are not simply defeat, but instead, hopefulness for the future, and, if you're lucky, even a happy ending or two.
And when you're stuck cramming for multiple mid terms, you take whatever hope you can find, whenever you can get it.
So, with attitude, realism, and a kick-ass punk feeling, Egan traverses generations, to craft the hope for a better tomorrow, by way of an ensemble cast you could meet on the street. Even a series of absolutely horrific essay prompts couldn't take that away. If only the book we were reading now - Jay Z's Decoded - wasn't so easy to kill. :)