The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

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Happy Surprises are the Best Kind of Surprises

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.

About Tiffany Quay Tyson

Tiffany Quay Tyson is a writer living in Denver, Colorado. She was born and raised in Mississippi. THREE RIVERS, her debut novel, was a Colorado Book Award finalist and a finalist for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction. She is a 2016 Amtrak Resident. She is currently working on her second novel.

5 comments on “Happy Surprises are the Best Kind of Surprises

  1. Terry Everett
    April 19, 2011

    I enjoyed your review, Tiffany; you make me want to read Egan’s book, especially by explaining its title, which I confess I was put off by and by your defense of the Power Point stuff which might also have been enough to keep me from reading. Once again I’m proud of what we put you through at Delta State; it shows in your remarks about the way Egan’s book works.

  2. Karen Palmer
    April 19, 2011

    I’m so glad Egan won. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a true original. Part of the reason the Power Point chapter works (I think) is because of its specific placement in the story. Egan’s a genius at ordering her material. I also loved Tinkers. So different, but equally worthy.

  3. andreadupree
    April 19, 2011

    Ah, Tiffany. You so good! I’m really glad that it won, too. I have Tinkers and will escalate it in the pile (the pile is so very tall! I keep breaking it in half and relegating half to the new improvised shelf that is the floor next to a stuffed bookcase)–based on your and Palmer’s recommendations. And thanks for the shout-out, TQ. All I want is a little credit for other writers’ books. Is that too much to ask for? 🙂

  4. Alisa A. Gaston-Linn
    April 20, 2011

    I bought Tinkers shortly after it won but it’s still on my shelf in the pending pile, oy. I thought I would have all of this time to read when I quit my job to take care of my baby, silly me. I’ll have to buy A Visit From the Goon Squad so that can sit and gather dust as well. Then when I finally read it in a few years, you and I can talk about it over coffee … 😉

  5. Pingback: When you know even less than you think you know « The Lighthouse Writers Top-Secret Blog

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This entry was posted on April 19, 2011 by in Good Books.

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