Sunday, August 28, 2011

240 (2011 #45). A Visit From the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan,
read by Roxana Ortega

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year.  While the author, Jennifer Egan, describes it as a novel, it's really a series of linked short stories.  Characters in one story will pop up in one or more later stories, set earlier or later in time (even somewhere into the 2020s).  The two main characters are Sasha, a kleptomaniac, and her one-time boss, Bennie Salazar, a music company executive.

So what's the book about?  I'd have to say it's about time - how it ages and changes us, but so incrementally that sometimes you don't notice the changes until a significant amount of time has passed.  Most characters in this book appear at two or more different ages, and the effects of the passage of time are noticeable.  I particularly liked Egan's stories that were set in the future, with "handsets" that sound a lot like the smartphones already addicting so many people.  Time is the "goon" in the stories. Parts of the book are funny, parts are borderline unbelievable, and a lot of it is sad.

Actress Roxana Ortega does a nice job reading this audiobook, managing to create some uniqueness for each character.  She's especially good as the breathless starlet Kitty. But the book doesn't entirely succeed in audio format.

Alison Blake's "slide journal" Great Rock and Roll Pauses (essentially a Powerpoint) from chapter 12 is available as a PDF file on disc 7, but only in black-and-white. Ortega gives Alison a slight lisp to make her sound younger, and the "slide show" effect is created with what sounds like an old-style slide projector changing slides.  I wish the audiobook could have incorporated snippets from the music referred to in this chapter, but I supposed there were copyright issues. It all works OK, but without the music, this was one case where I would have preferred a print book. However, ALL of the graph data from the last few slides (out of 75 total!) was tedious to listen to, and would have been the same if read.

And what IS it with characters mimicking author David Foster Wallace in books today?  In this case it's Jules Jones, a celebrity journalist, in a chapter attempting to explain an attempted rape. I have to admit, it was fun, in each chapter, to recognize a character perhaps briefly mentioned in an earlier chapter, and also see a minor character from the current chapter then star in his/her own chapter later on.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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