Friday, April 08, 2011

Bookin' It

"Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?" -Bennie Salazar, A Visit from the Goon Squad

On my trip to London (well, mostly during my flights to and from) I finished up two books that I'd been reading for a while.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book by Jennifer Egan that was given to me by Amy's mom, Jean, for Christmas.

Goon Squad was a book that grew on me as I read it. The novel involves various events relating to a set of often tenuously connected characters over an extended period of time, so it's the sort of thing that sort of slowly unfolds for you and develops your appreciation as it moves along. The novel loosely involves music and the music business as a central feature, but music serves as much as a vehicle for broader plot progression and metaphor as anything else (there are arguments to be made in there, I think, about the parallels between the growing cynicism and amorality of the music industry over time and some similar patterns that occur within the story arcs of the books various characters as their lives progress in the book).
To be honest, I almost gave up on the novel too soon because, in the early sections, I thought that it was going to be just a rumination on dysfunction, wrecked lives, and the wicked, wicked world that brings about such things. (I don't mind some of these things in books, but, personally, I tend to shy away from the "life sucks" school of literature and film unless I really think the work has something important to say.)
But the book turned out to be much more than a meditation on semi sleazy people and life's inequities.
Goon Squad is ultimately about hardships, difficulties, tragedies, and wounds, but it's also about the rewards and satisfactions that life delivers- many of them appearing when they're not anticipated, from unpredictable places and in ways that can surprise skeptical, scarred adults who've become too cynical to hold out hope for meaningful, genuine events or real happiness. Good things can happen in life, but they tend to happen in the same sort of random, unpredictable pattern that spawn our tragedies, and part of the joy in life's victories springs from that same unpredictability that frequently makes hardship so difficult.
Anyway, I give A Visit from the Goon Squad a thumbs up. In particular, I just really enjoyed the way that Egan writes. I want to read another one of her books sometime in the near future.

So thanks, Jean! Great book!

I also finished up a science fiction book from 1974 called The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The Forever War is a sort of science fiction account that roughly expresses some of the author's own experiences during the Vietnam War, and it holds up remarkably well for a book that's approaching its fortieth anniversary.
The novel is, in many ways, a very recognizable account of the career of an intelligent but unremarkable infantryman.
Forever War does a tremendous job, however, of using its futuristic, science fiction setting to highlight some troubling aspects of experiences that American troops have gone through as they've gone off to fight in faraway countries.
The soldiers in Forever War, traveling to distant parts of the galaxy through worm hole type phenomena known as collapsars, experience an effect known as time dilation. The soldiers experience only months going by as they move in transit, while back on Earth decades and centuries of time are passing the soldiers by. As a result, the home that the soldiers return to seems a hostile, unfamiliar place, and as the tours of duty get longer, the soldiers have a harder and harder time recognizing and relating to the strange, altered place that they're supposed to be defending. Not too hard to read something about the Vietnam experience into that, I guess.
Other metaphors, also not so subtle but nonetheless effective, include the utterly alien, inscrutable nature of the enemy that the soldiers are expected to fight, and things like the extremely powerful hypnosis techniques which are employed by the military in order to significantly heighten troop aggression (which overpowers the general sense of apathy and/or malaise which might otherwise take hold within the ranks).
The Forever War was also a really good read, although a much different one than Goon Squad.

Anyway, two good books. I would recommend each of them. I really just wanted to jot down some thoughts about them while they were fresh in my mind.


Jean said...

Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

J.S. said...

Yes, thanks for the book, Jean! I really ended up enjoying it! I know my review was sort of lame, but I didn't want to give too much away in case other people wanted to read it. ;-)