Welcome to the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Time is relentless and its repercussions unpredictable. Time itself is not the main character in Jennifer Egan’s, Welcome to the Goon Squad, but the driving force that shapes the story. Both a dangerous thug and a fairy god-mother, Time marches the characters along on many paths.
Challenging to read, the plot structure is more of a web than a sloping upward line on a chart, suddenly breaking down. Multiple characters narrate a connected viewpoint, but they don’t all know one another. Time frames shift rapidly.
Although we don’t meet characters who live during the Renaissance, we see an Italian palazo where the original coat of arms is now sloppily painted over by a happy face. Inside, marble and frescoes are almost obscured by grime, discarded clothing and dirty wrappers of street people and broke teenage travelers who inhabit the once spectacular rooms.
A teenage girl hitchhikes in California, and is picked up by a flashy middle-aged record producer in a sports-car. Time cruelly has his way with the both of them.
A twelve year old character tells her story through PowerPoint, although she can’t quite manage the timing of her slides. You’ll need go to the Internet to see the presentation properly. Find links for viewing the slides at your own pace, but also as the character too rapidly sets them. When you view at your own pace you’ll understand the story, but do take the time to see the girl’s presentation as it clicks along impossibly fast. This way you can hear the accompanying musical examples and appreciate the author’s sense of humour, both subtle and hysterically funny.
Since technology is the most conspicuous element affected by time in our present day, technology is toyed with here. In the early 90s a character solemnly declares that one day people will be using technology to chat in real time. In the 2020s even infants and toddlers own hand held devices that they learn to use intuitively and oh, how they crave them.
Time often robs, but sometimes blesses. Some of the characters appear to be at the lowest ebbs of their lives, and yet they surge forward, to enviable heights.
I read somewhere that ‘and’ is a critical word to our survival, because it’s the concept that the depressed and suicidals forget. Ensnared by the present moment it is nearly impossible to remember more will follow ‘this’, and that 'more' is limitless and unpredictable. As far as literature therapy goes, if you are bowed by your present situation, read this book. It can give you some space and perhaps hope.
If nothing else, this book can graphically remind you that “This too shall pass”.