Rose Recommends: December | Jennifer Egan

I can’t believe I almost forgot my recommendation post for December! I’ve been blogging more than usual lately (thanks to NaBloPoMo), so this post got lost in the shuffle. My December recommendations are:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan.

A Visit from the Good Squad is probably the best book I read in 2015. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, so I guess that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The reasons why I picked up this book are as follows: 1. it appeared in The Morning News’ Tournament of Books years ago, and I’ve been trying to read some of the winners, and 2. it relates to a story I teach in my senior English class, “Black Box.”

I read “Black Box” before “Goon Squad,” and I think “Black Box” is one of the most brilliant pieces of modern short fiction. Get this: it’s a spy thriller, but it was serialized on Twitter via The New Yorker’s account and later published in full in The New Yorker. So the story unfolds in sentences of 140 characters or less. But even more brilliant is the language used to tell the story: it’s written in 2nd person and almost reads as an instruction manual, yet it tells a story at the same time. Many of the tweets that make up the story could easily be removed out of context and still make sense as a nugget of truth. It’s actually really difficult to describe unless you read it, which I suggest you should. Here. Right now. Go. It’ll blow your mind. I’ve read “Black Box” probably 10 times now and I never tire of it. It’s definitely one of those experiences in which you catch more and more details each time you read.

The heroine of “Black Box” has a very small part in A Visit from the Goon Squad; in fact, if you didn’t know it, you probably wouldn’t be able to make the connection (but you cool people who read my blog will now know that “Black Box” is probably about Lulu. You’re welcome). A Visit from the Goon Squad “follows a large cast of mostly self-destructive characters as they grow older and life sends them in directions they did not intend to go in. The stories shift back and forth in time, moving from the late sixties to the present and into the near future” (thanks, Wikipedia). The stories of these people are all connected in some way, and it’s useful to look at a character map when trying to remember how they all connect to each other. Don’t let that put you off, though. The way the text weaves itself together through the lives of the characters is ingenious, and Egan’s writing is skillful and flexible when dealing with the different characters – one chapter is written entirely in PowerPoint slides, and it is marvelous. If you like innovative, modern literary fiction, you need to go read this book immediately.

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