HAUNTINGLY COMPLEX & DISCONCERTING

This compelling new novel from Jennifer Egan paints visual images for the reader, scanning the lives of musicians and assistants, from the past to the present; she also gives us glimpses of the future as we follow along in the moments.

Bennie Salazar and Sasha are the centerpiece characters in this tale.  Their lives in the music business carry them from San Francisco, to Naples, and to New York; the time period shifts from the 1970s to the present day or possibly some time in the future.  At the conclusion, the actual time period seems unclear.

We see how the lives of these artists can spin out of control, as exemplified by one Scotty, who is talented and gifted and, in the end, has almost completely slipped off the grid.  He is totally a member of the “goon squad.”

Throughout A Visit from the Goon Squad, I felt a kind of disorientation…the constant shifting of perspectives was disconcerting at times.  First person narrative, third person point of view; it took constant alertness and readjusting of my own perspective to stay attuned to what was happening.

Sometimes I would think…now who is this person?  And then it would slowly become clear.   Like the character Alex, in a moment when he is remembering bits and pieces of past events, expressed in this way:

“Alex looked up at the building, sooty against the lavender sky, and experienced a hot-cold flash of recognition, a shiver of déjà vu, as if he were returning to a place that no longer existed….”

This book made me think of real-life connections, and how our lives intersect with many people in this journey; sometimes, just when we’ve forgotten them, something will recall them for us.

It was sometimes difficult to read this book, which was compelling and haunting and a bit disturbing.  There was one section in the book that was filled with word diagrams instead of regular prose…several pages of them.  I found this style to be disruptive, and because of this aspect of the book, I am deducting one star.

Nevertheless, a four star read is a book that I recommend, especially for fans of Egan.

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GREED, LUST, & MISUNDERSTANDINGS

Violet Parry and Sally Parry have little in common, except that Violet is married to David Parry and Sally is his sister. The two are at odds through most of the story, each misunderstanding the other and resenting aspects about each other.

Violet seemingly has it all. A gorgeous house in the hills above LA; a full-time nanny; and money enough to buy almost everything she desires. So why is she so unhappy, disgruntled, and vulnerable to Teddy Reyes, the somewhat seedy musician who gives her a bit of attention? Is it, perhaps, because her husband is so focused on giving her everything that he doesn’t really notice her? Or that he only wants her to listen to him, but fails to reciprocate?

What woman wouldn’t feel neglected, since women mostly want to be understood? However, for whatever reasons, Violet is unable or unwilling to express her needs.

Then we have Sally, whose story alternates with Violet’s…She just wants a lot of the same things that Violet already has. A rich husband and enough money, since she’s plagued by credit card debt. She is also diabetic, a bit neurotic, and extremely demanding, but hey, what guy wouldn’t want her? She manipulates constantly to achieve her goals.

David, caught in the middle, seems totally clueless and feels misunderstood and unappreciated. Then, for whatever reason, he seems to get a clue and does an about-face, even though he has discovered his wife’s affair. For someone so successful, he seems to have few people skills. Or maybe it’s just women he doesn’t get.

What I most enjoyed about This One Is Mine: A Novel were the rich details that painted the LA lifestyle in such a way that I could visualize it. I could picture the homes, the clothes, and especially the characters. I liked that none of the characters were picture-perfect. Violet was still a tad overweight from the pregnancy; Sally was thin and could have been attractive, but her personality rendered her tense and almost fake; and Teddy—well, he is portrayed as someone scuzzy and a little bit unclean, which is how I viewed his character.

I also liked the part in which Violet and Sally actually begin to talk to one another and clear up some major misunderstandings they have.

I didn’t really buy David’s turnabout, and found it a bit unbelievable, but it did bring the story to a tidy conclusion.

This is a book for those who enjoy LA stories, or stories about what is going on behind the perfect façade that cloaks the rich and famous. I would give it a 4.5, deducting a bit for how the story ended.