Review of Jennifer Egan’s, A Visit from the Goon Squad

I probably shouldn’t review this book; I’m poorly set up for it in that I’m a musician and it’s supposedly about music. I’ll start by saying that yes, Jennifer Egan is a solid writer. She has a finger on the East Coast, and much of how people with money in New York cope with careers, kids, moral dilemmas around negotiating the same and I don’t know why but I feel like I’ve been reading about this a lot lately. I didn’t care about any of that, other than the story of a central character, Sasha. We learn about her in nonsequential phases–as a clepto music professional, then as a youth at risk and then a youth in real deep shit, trauma–then as a mom. More on this in a moment.

On to what is supposedly the central theme–musicians struggling in modern industry–and the thing is, Egan centered our rat-pit view of this cesspool of an industry mostly around Bennie, a record label exec–his struggles and divorces and navigations of industry trends and we’re back into this sort of pop culture, what’s hip with parenting and how do privileged white parents’ hypocrisies fuck up their kids’ lives and so forth. We learn more about scumbag managers taking advantage of young bands and their girlfriends than the experiences of the musicians themselves.

And Sasha, as a mom–I’m to believe she’s a music teacher as well: when one of her kids goes on this fairly interesting OCD kick about “pauses” in songs, this is where I start feeling the need to recuse myself because wouldn’t the son of a music teacher have learnt the word, “rest?” “Ensemble rest?” It’s cool this kid takes up such a specific interest and it speaks to some insight about how music impacts the listener, but I had a hard time getting past that we don’t get to hear about the “teachable” moment in the music vocabulary of this child; that we’re stuck instead with precocious little graphs spanning decades of music samples all centered around the generic, non-musical term, “pause.”

Further down the pedantic trail of my distaste, near the end of the book there’s mention of a stage setup involving I believe it was “twelve enormous mics,” for a single performer, on slide guitar and voice. In the acknowledgements, Egan credits a number of people “For their expertise in fields of which I knew little or less,” and I would have liked her to consult with these people a bit further: there is no way any professional audio operation would have set up for such an act in this manner. There could be call for three mics–a stereo capture of the slide guitar and one for voice–the rest would get in the way of bringing the best out of the situation. And there are no “enormous” mics in the industry, apart from let’s say a shotgun mic which is used more in sports than on stage.

So now you know more or less why I shouldn’t be reviewing this book. Yeah that’ll do it for me today. I guess it’s time for me to take a “pause.”


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