There aren't many novels that I'd recommend to everyone. Sure, there are novels that I'd recommend to some people and novels that I'd recommend to others, but only a handful of novels meet my criteria for across-the-board recommendation. One of these is the 2010 mega-hit, "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen. And it just so happens that the latest novel to make my list is the other 2010 mega-hit, 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winner "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan.
I've spent the last couple of weeks tearing through Goon Squad in progressive stages of discomfort: sweating on the bench in my yard with a breeze, sweating on the bed with a fan, and sweating on the couch with no fan, respectively. It's been humid here.
Or rather, I should say, "humid." My friends in the Northeast would probably hit me if they caught me complaining about what humidity is to me these days. Regardless, this book does what any ideal summer reading should do: it makes you completely forget about how hot you are.
Goon Squad is a contemporary literary novel that casts a wide net for its subject matter. It's about music. It's about time. It's about how our lives intersect. It's about 9/11. It's about social media. It's about choices and about children and about futures. Autism and homosexuality and celebrity. It's about America.
At least, it's about the America that literary novelists seem to favor: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, the desert. Places where there is enough of a sinister undertone, where the environment holds enough natural tension that the author can write about the minutiae that actually makes a life, even if nothing incredible is really happening.
Freedom was about all these things too. So was "Underworld" by Don Dellilo, which also happens to be on that short little list of mine. And in fact, all three of these big-hearted, beautiful books have the same style of switching perspectives, the interweaving of short stories, and the disregard for linear storytelling. Maybe it's safe to say that I have a type.
When I finished Goon Squad this weekend I couldn't help but laugh at the nod to bloggers in the last chapter. In a chapter set in the not too distant future, marketers rely on "parrots" to get the word out about whatever or whoeever they're selling. Bloggers won't be able to read this chapter without a smirk on their face and maybe a mini existential crisis to boot.