I just had a transformative reading experience. And no, I didn’t download an interactive book on my iPad. In fact, I actually read a hardcover, dust jacket and all. It was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
It’s the kind of book that has so many characters introduced at different times in their lives and through multiple points of view that I wanted to read it in one sitting so I wouldn’t forget who anyone was. Simultaneously, it was the kind of book that mixed passages with humor, sadness, sarcasm, and snappy dialogue, making me want to savor every page and take my time devouring it. However, what really made it transformative reading, was that between the covers weren’t just words, but a mosaic of visuals, music, pauses, and interjections. All created by juxtaposing familiar letters.
It wasn’t until I finished it, that I actually realized how brilliant it was (hence, why I’ve probably never been asked to judge the Pulitzer). Put simply, it’s interlocking narratives that weave a story of passing time, talent, music, friendship and fate. The chapters zigzag between the lives of aging record executive Bennie, and Sasha, a former bad girl who was once his assistant. Multiple characters crisscross the pages and narratives, even though Bennie and Sasha’s moment together, is, in the scheme of things, a mere moment.
No question, it’s a terrific tale. But Egan tells it in such a modern way that she’s made it a completely original experience. Like a comic book, you get into the characters’ heads. Like a magazine, there are multiple entry points. Like a PowerPoint presentation (which is what one chapter is), you see and hear an explanation of the action. Like the best of all transmedia properties, the richness of the story is ultimately gleaned from an intersection of different platforms. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a 21st century classic. No matter what format you read it in.
I’d love to hear if Goon Squad struck you the same way. Or if you’ve read any other books as original as this. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.