Visit from the Goon Squad (Egan) - Discussion Questions
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1. A Visit from the Goon Squad shifts among various perspectives, voices, and time periods, and in one striking chapter (pp. 176–251), departs from conventional narrative entirely. What does the mixture of voices and narrative forms convey about the nature of experience and the creation of memories? Why has Egan arranged the stories out of chronological sequence?
2. In “A to B” Bosco unintentionally coins the phrase “Time’s a goon” (p. 96), used again by Bennie in “Pure Language” (p.269). What does Bosco mean? What does Bennie mean? What does the author mean?
3. “Found Objects” and “The Gold Cure” include accounts of Sasha’s and Bennie’s therapy sessions. Sasha picks and chooses what she shares: “She did this for Coz’s protection and her own—they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances” (p. 7). Bennie tries to adhere to a list of no-no’s his shrink has supplied (pp. 18-19). What do the tone and the content of these sections suggest about the purpose and value of therapy? Do they provide a helpful perspective on the characters?
4. Lou makes his first appearance in “Ask Me If I Care” (pp. 30–44) as an unprincipled, highly successful businessman; “Safari” (pp. 45–63) provides an intimate, disturbing look at the way he treats his children and lover; and “You (Plural)” (pp. 64–69) presents him as a sick old man. What do his relationships with Rhea and Mindy have in common? To what extent do both women accept (and perhaps encourage) his abhorrent behavior, and why to they do so? Do the conversations between Lou and Rolph, and Rolph’s interactions with his sister and Mindy, prepare you for the tragedy that occurs almost twenty years later? What emotions does Lou’s afternoon in “You (Plural)” with Jocelyn and Rhea provoke? Is he basically the same person he was in the earlier chapters?
5. Why does Scotty decide to get in touch with Bennie? What strategies do each of them employ as they spar with each other? How does the past, including Scotty’s dominant role in the band and his marriage to Alice, the girl both men pursued, affect the balance of power? In what ways is Scotty’s belief that “one key ingredient of so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and special, that those included in it are privileged and those excluded from it are missing out” (p. 74) confirmed at the meeting? Is their reunion in “Pure Language” a continuation of the pattern set when they were teenagers, or does it reflect changes in their fortunes as well as in the world around them?
6. Sasha’s troubled background comes to light in “Good-bye, My Love” (p. 157). Do Ted’s recollections of her childhood explain Sasha’s behavior? To what extent is Sasha’s “catalog of woes” representative of her generation as a whole? How do Ted’s feelings about his career and wife color his reactions to Sasha? What does the flash-forward to “another day more than twenty years after this one” (p. 175) imply about the transitory moments in our lives?
7. Musicians, groupies, and entertainment executives and publicists figure prominently in A Visit from the Goon Squad. What do the careers and private lives of Bennie, Lou, and Scotty (“X’s and O’s”; “Pure Language”); Bosco and Stephanie (“A to B”); and Dolly (“Selling the General”) suggest about American culture and society over the decades? Discuss how specific details and cultural references (e.g., names of real people, bands, and venues) add authenticity to Egan’s fictional creations.
8. The chapters in this book can be read as stand-alone stories. How does this affect the reader’s engagement with individual characters and the events in their lives? Which characters or stories did you find the most compelling? By the end, does everything fall into place to form a satisfying storyline?
9. Read the quotation from Proust that Egan uses as an epigraph (p. vii). How do Proust’s observations apply to A Visit from the Goon Squad? What impact do changing times and different contexts have on how the characters perceive and present themselves? Are the attitudes and actions of some characters more consistent than others, and if so, why?
10. In a recent interview Egan said, “I think anyone who’s writing satirically about the future of American life often looks prophetic.... I think we’re all part of the zeitgeist and we’re all listening to and absorbing the same things, consciously or unconsciously....” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 8, 2010). Considering current social trends and political realities, including fears of war and environmental devastation, evaluate the future Egan envisions in “Pure Language” and “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.”
11. What does “Pure Language” have to say about authenticity in a technological and digital age? Would you view the response to Bennie, Alex, and Lulu’s marketing venture differently if the musician had been someone other than Scotty Hausmann and his slide guitar? Stop/Go (from “The Gold Cure”), for example?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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All of the essays are PDFs. Here is a link to download Adobe Reader.
Throughout Egan’s entire book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, there are shifts at the beginning of each chapter. Each time the reader flips the page to a new chapter they are greeted with an almost brand new story. Throughout the paper "Structurally Sound - A Look into the Form of the Book: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan" the reader will explore how Egan experimented with the form of her book in order to reflect her themes with more power. Her readers will find this through shifts in characters, perspectives, settings, and narrative styles throughout the book. In every chapter, there is a new twist, taking the reader on a different journey.
"Facing the Goon: Understanding the Role of Time in A Visit from the Goon Squad explores Jennifer Egan's use of time in the novel. Looking specifically at the anachronic order of the stories and Egan's personification of time, this essay strives to understand how these aspects work towards the novel as a whole. Egan uses these ideas to help readers deal with time passing in their own lives.
"Will You Still Love Me When I'm No Longer Young and Beautiful?" is an essay that explores how and why American culture has become so obsessed with youth. It looks at the way in which Egan uses the entertainment industry to illustrate how people distract themselves with pop culture and ties it into the phenomenon of nostalgia. This essay discusses how there is so much value later in life and that youth is not everything. Success and happiness can be achieved at any given age.
Growing up, children's most influential role models are typically their parents. This is no different for the characters in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. In "A Parental Visit From the Goon Squad", the relationships between children and their parents, specifically children with divorced parents or who come from nontraditional homes, are analyzed. Egan offers her readers hope through her characters that not all is lost for children raised broken homes, despite the negative association Americans place on them, and that a person is not defined by their past.
Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad relays the message that no matter what we do, time marches on. "Dirtied Hands: A Look at Time and Change in A Visit From the Goon Squad"looks at Egan’s novel through a new critical theory lens allowed for a close reading of Egan’s characters and themes. In the novel Egan shows the themes of the passage of time and the trends of change through popular culture and the music industry, new technology, and the September 11th tragedy. America’s youth has passed it by, and the nation has lost its innocence just as the characters in Egan’s novel have lost theirs.
In "The Dystopian Future in A Visit from the Goon Squad," an analysis is done of the future that reveals subtle and chilling notes of a dystopian world. Thorough review of the text reveals a systematic breakdown of societal progress and the negative connotations that come with them. Particular focus is paid to the final two chapters, as well as the short story published later by Egan to continue the plotline into the future, “Black Box.” Through a series of interviews with Jennifer Egan and a brief review on technology proliferation, research is done to determine the overall message the future in A Visit from the Goon Squad attempts to convey.
"Negative Experiences and Emotional Scars: Things that Can't be Stolen" discusses the connection between unhealthy connections to the past and how that connection manifests itself in the present. This essay exclusively covers Sasha, and how the disappearance of her dad leads to her developing kleptomania. From start to finish, Sasha's past is discussed in relation to her present actions, especially her decision to steal and suppress emotions.
The purpose of this essay is to explore how those characters, defeated by time’s complexity, deal with their life dilemmas by unconsciously using defense mechanisms, the nature of their internal fear that make them do so, and what is the consequence to their life in terms of the magical power of coping mechanisms.
"Psychoanalytic Theory and Emotions" explores the relationship between emotions and lessons learned from ill events. Why linger on the past or traumatic events when there is growth and a lesson to be learned from such events? Through Jocelyn and Sasha’s stories, traumatic events and the emotions that pursue them, are analyzed in terms of how they affect the character and how to grow from them and move on towards normality.
Symbolism is found in a wide variety of literature, including A Visit From the Goon Squad. Egan’s symbol of choice in this book is color, specifically yellow and darker tones. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Significance of Color in A Visit From the Goon Squad" explores how and why Egan uses specific colors to augment the book’s themes as well as how this symbolism contributes to the story arc as a whole.
This close-reading and reader response interpretation of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad examines the novel's theme of the passage of time, more specifically the effect of time on one's perspective and intelligence. Much attention is paid to the idea of self-teaching and authenticity as a way to a more fulfilling life as well as the validity of life experience as a form of education.
Alexandra Lopez Vera
This essay, entitled "Been There, Done That: An Author’s Struggle for Individuality through Postmodernity," is an analysis upon Egan’s pursuit of individuality under the light of Freudian theories, thorough appraisal and Egan’s youth meandering experiences throughout thirteen overlapping and twisting stories from mainstream works to outstanding worship related book.
This essay explores the relationship between authenticity and identity in A Visit from the Goon Squad. A psychoanalytic approach is taken to discover the importance of acceptance of self. Along the way, concepts of “pastness,” value, stigma, perception, and insecurity are related to the character’s journeys of achieving authentic identities.
Veronica Powell Hughes
"Jocelyn's Journey from Nostalgia into the Progression of Time" is about how hope is revealed to the audience for Jocelyn as a recovering drug addict. It talks about how this transformation happens through her relationships with other characters in “You (Plural)” as well as through a personal reflection of herself. Through her coming to peace with her issues, it gives the readers hope about her life, as this is her last exit of the story.
It is important to know the kind of effects past experiences have on characters’ minds, behaviors, and decisions. In the book A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan is able to show how important it is to let go of the past through the character Sasha. Even though Sasha was able to overcome many of the obstacles in her life, the journey was not easy. This paper explores how holding onto the past can have a negative psychological effect on one’s mind, and how that effect can make a person behave in a dysfunctional manner.