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By now you’ve likely heard that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. You may have read the news or heard it on the radio or you may have heard the collective yawp of readers who fell in love with the book and developed a writer’s crush on Egan.
Lighthouse Program Director Andrea Dupree first waxed enthusiastic about A Visit From the Goon Squad in this very spot not four months ago. Having never been steered wrong by Dupree, I immediately dove in to Egan’s collection. If you haven’t read it (and you really should), it’s a novel that is woven from a collected group of stories. It goes back in time and also jumps forward into an imagined and believable technology-soaked future. Time is the goon of the title. Each story focuses on a different character and employs a different style, a different voice, a different point of view. One section is written entirely in Power Point. Yes, Power Point. As someone who has suffered through numerous Power Point presentations in stuffy boardrooms, I was skeptical. Somehow Egan managed to make the most boring way to transmit information ever strangely compelling. She’s that good.
A Visit From the Goon Squad received great reviews upon being published. The New York Times called it “darkly, rippingly funny” and asked, “Is there anything Egan can’t do in the mash-up of forms?” At least one section of the book first appeared as a short story in The New Yorker. Across the pond, The Guardian warns its readers that they shouldn’t be fooled by the Scooby-Doo title and calls it “a delight to read.”
By the time the Pulitzers were announced, it had already won The National Book Critics Circle Award, an award many assumed would go to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.
Still, Egan was surprised by the Pulitzer. She says that as a journalist she always knew that if she worked hard and paid her dues, a Pulitzer was possible, but she never imagined winning for fiction. That’s the thing about the Pulitzer, it often surprises.
As it happens, I’m currently finishing up last year’s Pulitzer winner for fiction. Tinkers by Paul Harding is nothing like A Visit From the Goon Squad. Tinkers is quiet and poetic. It devotes pages to the inner workings of clocks, instructions on how to build a bird’s nest. It takes place in the final days of one man’s life and is told largely in flashback. A Visit From the Goon Squad is boisterous and spans decades, reeling from present to past to future in thrilling leaps.
Tinkers was published by a small press (Bellevue Literary Press) and didn’t even hit the radar of The New York Times until after it received Pulitzer attention. Egan’s work was published by Knopf and was critically acclaimed from day one.
Tinkers was a debut work by a promising, but struggling author. It came close to not being published at all. Harding says it was rejected by every major publishing house in New York and languished in a drawer for three years before finding a home with Bellevue. A Visit From the Goon Squad is the fourth book-length release from Egan, a respected journalist as well as an accomplished author of fiction.
Tinkers is a Psalm. A Visit From the Goon Squad is a hard rock anthem.
Both books are surprising in different ways and both are well worth your time.