A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
A novel of interconnected stories, A Visit From the Goon Squad explores how time works to destroy some lives and redeem others. Bennie Salazar, an aging music producer, and Sasha, his troubled assistant, are at the center of the novels, around which the narratives of other characters – whose lives intersect with theirs – revolve. Time move backward and forward, even into the future, from one chapter to the next; the stories are set in varied locales, from New York City to Naples to the California desert, and emerge from a variety of voices (from first to third person) and in unusual formats, such as a chapter composed entirely of PowerPoint slides.
We first meet Sasha, a kleptomaniac, when she steals the wallet of a woman in a hotel restroom; Sasha’s checkered past as a teenager is subsequently revealed, along with scenes of her later married life, and her intervening years as Bennie’s assistant. Some characters, like Sasha, find a measure of peace, while others struggle with time’s ravages. La Doll, a former big-shot public relations executive whose career took a nosedive after she accidentally maimed her clients at a party, is reduced to taking work rehabilitating the image of a genocidal dictator. Lou, a coked-up music executive who cavorts with teenage girls, ages without grace. And Bennie’s childhood friend, Scotty Hausmann, falls down on his luck later in life, becoming an object of scorn when he brings Bennie a gift at his office: a freshly caught fish wrapped in newspaper. Egan’s characters are tied together by their search for authenticity in both themselves and in their relationship, and redemption from past shames. Time is the enemy of some (“Time’s a goon, right?” asks Bosco, a washed-up rock star about to embark on his “suicide tour”) and the friend of others, allowing renewal and fresh starts.
Throughout, Egan explores the interconnectedness – and discontinuity – of her characters’ lives, and employs music as a metaphor for life.
Jennifer Egan’s Oatmeal Fudge “Refrigerator” Cookies
“My grandmother, Elva Kernwein, used to make these cookies often when I was a child. She was a terrible cook (her recipe for spaghetti involved the addition of several slices of bread to the sauce!) but a spectacular baker, and I inherited both her sweet tooth and her love of baking. We made these cookies together when I would visit her and my grandfather in Rockford, Illinois, where my mother grew up. What I love most about them is their basic yet somehow unusual taste: an amalgam of fudge and oatmeal cookies, achieved without baking or refrigeration! They are, I would venture, genre-less cookies – a mix of sturdy elements that are tasty in themselves yet achieve a transcendent unity, even a kind of delicacy – in combination. I was going for that same effect in my novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, which consists of thirteen chapters, all very different from each other, that work together to tell a much larger story. Like my grandmother’s cookies, their genre is unclear: story collection? Novel? While working on the book, I tended to think of it as a concept album, but perhaps I should simply have thought of it as a cookie!”
Note: You don’t bake these cookies, but you don’t actually put them in the refrigerator either.
2 cups sugar
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Dash of salt
½ cup chopped nuts and/or dried coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened) (optional, but I recommend adding these!)
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick)
1. Line several baking sheets with waxed paper. Combine sugar, oats, cocoa, salt and nuts and/or coconut in a large bowl. Set aside.
2. Place milk, vanilla, and butter in a saucepan and cook over medium –high heat until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Continue cooking for 2 minutes more.
3. Pour liquid mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir with a spoon only until the dry ingredients are saturated. Stir contents very little. Drop by heaping tablespoon(s) on prepared sheets, and flatten a bit. DO NOT BAKE.
4. Allow cookies to rest for an hour or so, then transfer to a cookie tin. The cookies must sit overnight before they attain the desired texture. They cannot be served same day! And do not refrigerate!
Yield: 2 ½ dozen cookies