Friday, August 12, 2011

Technically, A Visit From the Goon Squad is a great book. Technically

More thoughts on July reading:

Book 78: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Technically, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad -- winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize -- is a great book.  Technically.

Egan shows stunning facility in her ability to weave these vignettes, snapshots of characters' lives, into a coherent whole.  The beginning and ending offer a perfect example of her expertise.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to two characters who reappear throughout the book.  The emphasis in the opening pages is on one character, but by the final pages the emphasis is on the other. The manner in which Egan flips the emphasis over the course of the book from one character to another is neatly done, and an admirable piece of writing.

Egan also has an ability to introduce a minor character in the course of the narrative and to sum up the arc of his (or her) life in only a few descriptive phrases, phrases that are interjected almost as a casual footnote, but which have a powerful effect.

Yet, I have reservations about this novel as I did with Egan's Look at Me, which was shortlisted for the 2001 National Book Award.  Egan tells a great story, but there is a noticeable absence of passion for her characters. It's not that they are flat or wooden -- they're not -- yet it's almost impossible to care for them.

They're less people on a page than devices to advance an intricate story, cleverly told.

Book 79: Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Lockdown was shortlisted for the National Book Award in the category of Young People's Literature. It doesn't hold up well against such books as Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird (which won) or Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker.

And I can't imagine Lockdown having much appeal to any teen who stumbles upon it. It's transparent in its message, didactic, preachy and unrealistic. 

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