Friday, December 20, 2013

Life Would Be a Goon, Sweetheart

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad recalls the intricately interconnected sprawl of Cloud Atlas and Infinite Jest, but presented in miniature, as if those literary metropoles were reconfigured in order to be contained in a single city block. In fact, the Jules Jones interview/nervous breakdown chapter feels like a direct parody of or homage to David Foster Wallace's writing style, and the way characters and situations are nested recurrently throughout the distinctly different narratives and styles of each chapter owes a lot to Cloud Atlas.

Yet I don't mean to belabor the point regarding its influences - this is very much its own book and in its finest moments it achieves the sort of lyrical transcendence one associates with masterpieces. It's also a breeze to read, which I think belies its real complexities to a significant degree.

One could quibble with the neatness of the interconnections of Egan's characters, settings and stories. Many writers suggest that coincidences should only create problems in the narrative, not solve them, as solving by way of coincidence amounts to a kind of displeasing storytelling laziness akin to the dreaded deus ex machina. Egan could be accused of partially violating this principle. Her coincidences don't necessarily solve 'narrative problems' per se, but they do serve as a sort of textual suture that draws together the threads of her book into a novelistic whole.

But there's something magical about a well-executed circular narrative that excuses or even erases a lot of what would be considered flaws otherwise. The matryoshka storytelling of a Cloud Atlas, a Goon Squad, or a One Thousand and One Nights (their spiritual forebear), discards the facsimile of worldly logic and literal truth associated with traditional linear narratives, and in its place constructs a sort of dream logic and metaphorical truth that seems more like the real thing.

That real thing being life, the universe, and everything - of course!

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