40 Wild Thoughts

I feel a little crazy. Here’s what’s happening:

  1. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is now an American literature hit and I feel torn about the book’s success.
  2. Egan won the Pulitzer. I’m not hatin’, but…
  3. Her book scares me.
  4. Maybe I’m too traditional.
  5. I’m the woman who felt bad about buying a Kindle. I still feel bad about it.
  6. But I read A Visit From the Goon Squad on a Kindle.
  7. Do I contradict myself?
  8. Am I an experimental reader?
  9. Oh, god! See what I mean? I think too much.
  10. Do I have to come up with a bag of “lit tricks” in order to be a relevant or successful writer?
  11. A Power Point in a novel! Really?
  12. Poet Terrance Hayes adapted Pecha Kucha (the Japanese slide-show format) in his book, Lighthead. I love Hayes’ work, but I recall placing way too much attention on the history and meaning of Pecha Kucha instead of Hayes’ poetry. Do you see where I’m going?
  13. Egan’s book felt like it was trying too hard. “Doin’ too much” is what we call it. I shouldn’t think about Punky Brewster if Punky Brewster isn’t a part of the narrative, but I thought about her.  Not good.
  14. Crazy; I know!
  15. There is a lot of really cool and trendy language throughout Egan’s book.
  16. But I wanted Egan to tell us a beautiful story about time.
  17. Scratch the tangling of stories.
  18. Bring back the beauty of basic storytelling!
  19. It seems a bit dangerous for a writer to give us interlocking stories, a look at American culture, coming of age, music, Power Point, place, drugs, sex, theft, blondes, tennis, New York, 9/11, self-destruction and heartache all at once!
  20. Maybe I’m too straightforward.
  21. I’m an artist; I appreciate the work artists put in.
  22. I don’t want to reject everything or be too critical or grumpy about Egan’s work.
  23. I can dig her talent.
  24. I just hope we don’t get to a point in literature where language is lost and we’re all trying to figure out ways to put everything but the kitchen sink in our work.
  25. Egan even “texts” in her novel.
  26. What makes that so cool and innovative? Don’t we get enough of texting in reality?
  27. I get it. She is brave and bold and she’s trying new things.
  28. But someone already “texted” in a literary work.
  29. I don’t want modernity to destroy literature.
  30. Is it all Ezra Pound’s fault? He’s the one who said “make it new”.
  31. No, let’s blame Quentin Tarantino for Egan’s influence. I like Pound. She said it here (the thing about Tarantino’s influence).
  32. Egan’s first chapter was brilliant!
  33. Does the book keep all of the stories and characters linked by the end? Sort of. So, is Egan successful in tying it altogether? Not really, but that doesn’t mean the book fails.
  34. I took away a lot from Egan’s novel even though I wouldn’t call it a must read (even though it won so many awards).
  35. Should I call A Visit From the Goon Squad a novel or collection of short stories?
  36. I’m leaning towards a collection of short stories.
  37. Back to what I took away from A Visit From the Goon Squad:
    1. Discover a new process for approaching chronology and time in my work.
    2. Get a little nutty; it’s okay. You might even get an award.
    3. But I’m not writing for awards; I’m writing for truth and the preservation of black life.
    4. Break the rules a little. Remember Egan’s disregard for quotes in chapter 3 when the characters are speaking to one another. You enjoyed that part!
    5. Keep the content juicy. People love juicy.
    6. Think more deeply about my influences.
    7. Try writing without a masterplan and see where it goes. In an interview with Paul Gallaher, Egan says she “didn’t really have any kind of masterplan” for the book.
    8. Don’t ever text in a poem. It’s not your version of cool.
    9. The concept album in literature is cool; try it.
    10. Always find something to take away from a work even if you don’t consider it great.
    11. Egan pays homage to rock ‘n’ roll through literature. Coming soon: My homage to Neo Soul via poetry.
    12. Process. Process!
    13. Nail dialogue!
  38. Egan agrees with me. I found her interview on NPR where she shares her thoughts about experimental writing. She says, “When I hear something is experimental, I tend to think that means the experiment will drown out the story.”
  39. See! I’m not crazy.
  40. Enough said.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “40 Wild Thoughts

  1. All of this. I am curious about how this won the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, she’s a good writer and it’s an interesting story, but come on. She definitely tried too hard with this, sort of in a Forrest Gump way where all these major things are in one story. “I’m an artist; I appreciate the work artists put in.” I agree 100%. I was having a discussion with a friend a few weeks ago about writers reading their work in public, and how I respect them for putting it out there in that way and opening it up to ridicule, but sometimes we have to admit that it’s just not good. This book is good, but it’s not life-changing good, it’s not major award good. It’s let’s-read-something-to-take-my-mind-off-things good. I’m a huge Tarantino fan, so I do see his storytelling influence here, though I don’t think she’s as remarkable at it as he is. It definitely would read better as a collection of short stories.

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  2. I think it’s interesting that the connectivity of the stories didn’t work for you, because I thought that the gimmick was well done and added something to the overall thematic elements of the book. When it came to things like the texting part or the PowerPoint part, I guess I just figured it was integrating and implementing more of the modern way we communicate into the stories (you said “don’t we get enough of texting in reality” and that’s why I figured it was included, because it was a slice of reality, added a little bit more of rooted realism) – but I could definitely see something like this being overdone in a different collection. If there isn’t (and there probably is, everything’s been done before) a book of short stories or flash fiction or even a novel told entirely in text messages, I’m sure there will be.
    I’m curious, and maybe it’s something we could just discuss in class, but you said that the book was “trying too hard” and it felt like things only “sort of” came together at the end in terms of the characters/story threads. At a certain point were you looking for a final wrap up or a more concrete chapter bridging these things together, or did you give up on that somewhere when you saw more of the non-linear approach? What do you think would have happened to the themes of time and relationships if this was told in a more straight-forward sort of way that cut out the more experimental stuff and non-linear chronology? Would you have preferred if it focused on just one character and they happened to cross paths with some of the others mentioned throughout, in a similar way to Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son”?
    I love the way you did a list format for this blog post. I think you commented on someone else’s once using this method too. It’s a lot of fun to read (very experimental!) and communicates your thoughts in a very quick and concise manner.
    -Adam

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    1. Adam,

      Thanks for commenting. You’re right; Egan’s “gimmick was well done”. I thought so too (my blog’s 23rd thought: “I can dig her talent”). I’m just a little cautious of the gimmick/”lit tricks” in my own writing and that is probably the root of my suspicion whenever it comes up in someone else’s work. After my post I found an NPR interview with Egan and she provided insight on her decision to experiment with form. I’m so glad I came across the article because I like to know the method for people’s madness. Lynn Neary of NPR says, “Egan is fascinated by the way technology is changing the world, but she is equally tied to the past.” The interview reveals Egan’s interest in experimenting and breaking the rules in literature because she respects when writers take chances. Furthermore, I learned that Egan is aware of “[holding] on to the best part of the past while having fun with the best part of what’s new.” I appreciate that. And as far as tying it altogether…I guess that’s actually a hard thing to say (this is why I said “sort of” in my blog) because each chapter has some version of connectivity (Egan succeeds in twinning tone throughout the text). Will Blythe does a better job articulating the end of Egan’s novel. He says, “Egan attempts to bring a centrifugal narrative full circle, which, given the entropic exhilarations on display, isn’t really in keeping with the story’s nature. But this is perhaps the only shortcoming (and a small one at that) in a fiction that appropriately for its musical obsessions, is otherwise pitch perfect.” For me the ending felt like a new song on Egan’s forthcoming album. Bottom line: I salute Egan’s technical execution. I appreciate the work she put in (see #21 in my blog). Looking forward to tomorrow’s class.

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