08 June 2011


last month i read jennifer egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad;" i didn't realize, going in, that it was A BOOK about THE INTERNET. it's set up to read as though you're clicking a seemingly-random pathway through friends-of-friends-of-friends on facebook (instead of general information, though, each chapter offered deeply private insight into one character [who was related in some way, shape, or form to the previous chapter's character] at a crucial moment in their life). while it wasn't laid out chronologically, it does end in A FUTURE where people text instead of talk, the word "friend" no longer has meaning because of its social networking ramifications, and the music industry is now geared towards babies with credit cards. the loose ends between characters are neatly tied up and sooner rather than later we're supposed to realize that while AT THIS VERY MOMENT we're rocketing towards THIS VERY POSSIBLE FUTURE OURSELVES, the things that are true and permanent to our human situation are love, family, music, and an all-consuming desire for a shared human experience - to be able to say i was there and i felt it, too.

when i put this book down i felt like i was taking crazy pills, for a couple of reasons: the first is that i couldn't BELIEVE that it won the pulitzer over jonathan franzen's "Freedom," which touched on some similar technology issues and was about a million times more well written (i think, and beyond the PROSE i thought "Freedom" just had a better STORY). i didn't totally dislike egan's writing style, there were a few chapters that i couldn't get out of my head for days (one involving a lion attack, another an all-girl band), but overall - and this is the main reason i truly felt FLAMES upon finish - the book felt like a waste of time. for the intimacy of experience that each chapter relayed, the time spent with each character was so brief as to be superficial. in the end, one character's revelation that their spouse was having an affair was essentially equal to knowing only their vital facebook stats; while the other half of that couple was revisited more often than any character over the course of the book, in the end even they hadn't been developed in any sort of satisfying way. in fact, the only thing we really saw evolve was technology, or more specifically, our reaction to/integration of technology, and who wants the most evolved character in a book to be their computer? NOT ME. i was left with the exact same feeling i used to have in college when i'd sit down to write a paper, only to realize, four hours later, that i'd accomplished NOTHING other than having illegally downloaded a bunch of music and dicked around on friendster. BUT IF THAT WAS THE POINT, THEN WELL-PLAYED, JENNIFER EGAN.

*especially because this book was billed as "about an aging rocker," as is, in part,"Freedom." if you're going to dedicate time to one (fictional**) aging rocker then let it be franzen's richard katz.
** the clear*** nonfiction choice is keith richards.
*** wait really it's patti smith (though calling her "aging" feels terribly rude).


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