Jennifer Egan is the 2012 Literary Arts Series spring author. Most recently, Egan has published A Visit From the Goon Squad, which won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the Pulitzer Prize. She has also written The Keep, Look at Me, Emerald City and The Invisible Circus. Her journalism has been published in GQ and The New York Times Magazine.
She will be speaking March 6, 2012, 1:45 p.m., at the Ciccone Theatre Building.
We encourage you to incorporate an excerpt, short story, or part of Egan’s work into your syllabus and course material. To this effect, LAS will be offering several “teaching approaches” to Jennifer Egan before the event, including sample questions.
In an essay that explains how Egan constructed her book, she writes, “Readers of A Visit From the Goon Squad are sometimes startled at first to find that each of its thirteen chapters has both a different main character, and a different mood, tone and feel from the other chapters. My thinking was: if this novel is made of parts—rather than one central story—why not take full advantage of that structure and make the parts as unlike one another as they can possibly be, while still fusing together? I wanted to provide the greatest possible range of reading experiences: some parts of the book are unabashedly tragic; others are satiric; a few moments are openly farcical. One chapter is written in the form of a celebrity profile; another is in PowerPoint. I tried writing a chapter in epic poetry, but it turns out that to write epic poetry, you have to be a poet.”
There are several interviews with Egan on her website.
Egan reads from A Visit From the Goon Squad for National Public Radio.
“Jennifer Egan’s new novel is a moving humanistic saga, an enormous nineteenth-century-style epic brilliantly disguised as ironic postmodern pastiche. It has thirteen chapters, each an accomplished short story in its own right; characters who meander in and out of these chapters, brushing up against one another’s lives in unexpected ways; a time frame that runs from 1979 to the near, but still sci-fi, future; jolting shifts in time and points of view—first person, second person, third person, Powerpoint person; and a social background of careless and brutal sex, careless and brutal drugs, and carefully brutal punk rock. All of this might be expected to depict the broken, alienated angst of modern life as viewed through the postmodern lens of broken, alienated irony. Instead, Egan gives us a great, gasping, sighing, breathing whole.” – Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books
“The showiest part of this acrobatic book is the part that doesn’t look like fiction writing at all: Ms. Egan spends 70-odd pages on PowerPoint charts meant to reflect the rogue thoughts of two adolescents, who turn out to be Sasha’s children. The passage of that much time moves “A Visit From the Goon Squad” somewhere into the future, but Ms. Egan clearly enjoys tackling such challenges. And if the PowerPoint ploy seems risky, it winds up being no less welcome than any of her other methods. She also makes chillingly weird use of text-message-ese: “if thr r childrn, thr mst b a fUtr, rt?” It takes temerity to even ask, let alone text, that question.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times Book Review
“It is only in her new novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, with its more unorthodox narrative, that Egan fully realises her vision of the impersonal tyranny of a mass, technicised society. Describing the lives of people in and around the rock music business, it spans roughly half a century, from the 1970s to a menacingly near future. Several interlocking developments specific to this period form the political and cultural background to the book’s diversely alienated characters: the neutralisation of the counterculture, the decline of family capitalism, the rise of corporate political and economic power, and of credit-fuelled high-end consumption, which together lead to a state of mass depoliticisation where even the obsession with personal identity that had previously overlaid the reality of class conflict turns into competition between consumer status groups (iPhone v. Blackberry – that kind of thing). The book ends with a bleak vision of gadget-addicted infants and toddlers driving popular culture and business.” Pankaj Mishra, London Review of Books