Mid-hurricane weekend, as I sat on the couch with A Visit from the Goon Squad on my lap, babbling about how I never should have started it again because it is so, so good it makes me want to give up, Dan asked how often I reread books. The answer is not often, not when I’m so behind on all the world’s literature. But I reread Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Jo Ann Beard and, it seems, Jennifer Egan. I’ve already listened to the podcast of “Safari,” from Goon Squad, at least three times. It is here, read by Hope Davis, and it is excellent, although I think it is slightly shorter than the actual story. (I just saw that one of my favorite podcasts, the Slate Audio Book Club, did Goon Squad this month–I haven’t listened yet, but I bet it’s going to be interesting.) And, Ms. Egan, a friend of the digital arts journal I co-edit, Underwater New York, also generously made audio recordings of three watery portions of Goon Squad for our featured tab on Broadcastr, which I’ve listened to quite a few times, tearing up each time when she gets to the part where Rob is in the water…
I probably don’t have to tell you at this point that A Visit from the Goon Squad is a novel-in-stories, the stories linked together by their interlocking characters, a web of lives so intricate that people have made tables and graphs and maps of them (easily searchable on the internet). These links are part of what makes the book worth rereading–the architecture of it becomes slightly more visible, or easier to focus on, on the second read because the magic–though still just as magical–isn’t new anymore. This time around, I let myself pause and connect dots, whereas the first time it was enough for me to feel the connections, to let them spark on the page without trying to trace them back to their origins. I doubt there are many of you reading this blog who haven’t read this book, so I’ll skip right to advocating reading it again. It only gets better.
Having just met Cate Marvin, co-founder of the wonderful VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, an organization I’ve written about on this blog before, I’ve been thinking about feminism and literature even more than I do usually–which is a lot–and so it also struck me, on this read, how many of Ms. Egan’s characters are women, and how many are young women. I recently received a sort of back-handedly complimentary letter from the publisher of a small press that sponsored a contest in which one of my stories received honorable mention, where he said that it is “…one of those tricky stories that doesn’t at first seem to be as good as it is… it seems to be lightweight, but isn’t.” Although I’ll take all the honorable mentions I can get, it seemed to me that he had this first reaction because the story is about a teenage girl; in a story about disfigurement, autism, manipulation–fairly heavy topics–I can’t come up with much else. So, while it is pretty stupid that this is even a thing we should all be dealing with anymore, it is, so it is encouraging that a book where not just one but many of the characters are young women won a Pulitzer (and more! Also, I could get started on all the Franzen vs. Egan stuff but that’s all been said).
I want to leave you with this, which is from a story that gripped me more on this second time around “You (Plural)”–this little paragraph, from page 69, is beautiful on its own, even more so within the context of the story and staggeringly more so within the context of the whole book. Over glasses of wine a few weeks ago, a friend who isn’t a writer but is a great reader, and I were talking about this aspect of the book–the parts adding up to more than their sum. She asked me, as someone who is attempting to write a novel-in-stories,”Isn’t it really hard to do that?” My answer, of course, was “you have no idea!”
Even after the noise stopped, we stayed, our backs on the cool tiles. We were waiting for the sun. It came up fast, small and bright and round. “Like a baby,” Rolph said, and I started to cry. This fragile new sun in our arms.