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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Goon Squad & The Bestseller

Like many of you, I've read books I did not like much. I suspect your reasons, like mine, have varied and perhaps one of those reasons was not enjoying the author's writing.

I recently read two novels back-to-back, finishing both fairly quickly. The first was a popular bestseller and the second was Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From The Goon Squad ". Except for the story, I didn't like the first book at all. I found the writing pedestrian, the dialogue clunky, and the author used the words "irony" & "ironic" so many times I actually began to groan about halfway through.

Egan's book was stunning beginning to end. The novel is told by multiple narrators and zooms from 1973-2020 effortlessly. The author uses innovative techniques to tell her story (a story with as much sweep as the bestseller, albeit one with a less historically significant subject), including having a 12 year old narrator tell the penultimate chapter in the form of a Power Point presentation. Egan's dialogue and use of descriptive language are crisp. "A Visit From The Goon Squad" is thoroughly modern but refreshingly familiar.

For me, the contrast between the talent of these two authors was stark; I likely noticed this because I read them very closely in time. And then I got stuck. I'd originally thought I would blog about both books, making fun of the bad writing about an "important" subject vs. the excellent writing about a "less important" subject. I even thought up a facile blog title to help me make fun of the bad writing. But something shifted in me when I thought about how the author of that bestseller researched & finished the book, got it published, and people are reading it. That is more than I've done. And that bestseller is about an important subject, so at minimum, the author deserves credit for performing a public service, my opinion of the writing (far) aside.  

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