Lynn Neary reports on books and the publishing world for NPR. Favorite Book 2010 asks NPR personalities to write about one book from the past year that they loved.
I used to be the kind of person who loved to devour long novels — I still do sometimes. But more often these days, I find that I gravitate towards a shorter form, often described as "linked short stories" (for want of a better description I think). The "links" that hold the characters and their stories together can be as fleeting as a momentary encounter or as binding as a lifelong relationship. Either way, they shape and change characters in profound ways.
I think of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad as this kind of book, even though Egan herself doesn't — she says the book defies categorization. And she's right — A Visit from the Goon Squad doesn't fit neatly into any genre. Egan is playing with the idea of the novel, and the result is a swirling time trip that is both fun and emotionally satisfying. One of the most effective and affecting stories in the book comes in the form of a power point presentation narrated by a 12-year-old girl. That feat in itself is a testament to Egan's powers as a writer.
The two characters who appear and disappear with the greatest frequency are Sasha, a young woman who has a compulsive urge to steal, and her boss, Bennie, a record company executive who was once a member of a punk rock band in San Francisco. The book travels back and forth in time with these characters and many of the people who have touched their lives. Each of the stories stands alone, each has a distinct style and narrative voice — and together they form a more perfect whole. They fit together like a mosaic. At first you can't make out the image, but then the jumble of pieces comes together to create a vivid picture of a fully realized world.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, hardcover, 288 pages, Knopf, list price: $25