At my grandfather's wake, my sister said to me, "I keep looking at Grandma and thinking, in 25 years, Mom will be that old."
"And I'll be as old as Mom," I said.
That, in a nutshell, is what A Visit From the Goon Squad is about -- those moments when you feel the years that have gone by.
Goon Squad is, among many things, a triumph for feminism. I know there are many reasons women authors are rarely behind the next East of Eden, the next Infinite Jest, the next The Corrections. The first is outright discrimination. But I think a more significant reason is the way women are socialized from birth. I have been to so many panel discussions in New York where women panelists came off poorly because they were not only obviously nervous, but, worse, constantly apologizing for their work and making self-deprecating jokes. I do it. I don't mean to be accusatory. Women learn to provide emotional support and pick up after others. Men learn not to sweat the small stuff and to focus on big ideas.
I know all of this. And yet, there must have been a part of me that wondered whether women really were capable of doing everything men could. Otherwise, when I read Goon Squad, I would not have known for the first time that women can write novels that are 100% as equally impressive as those written by men. I haven't read Jennifer Egan's other books, but if they are of similar quality, I wouldn't say she's as good as David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen. I would say she's better.
You know how even if you don't agree with everything Barack Obama has done since he was elected (or ever I guess), there's a quality about him that seems too perfect to be real? You'll never catch him getting mixed up in a sex scandal, or choking on a pretzel, or puking on the prime minister of Japan. And do you know why that is? Because if he did things like that, he wouldn't have made it anywhere close to this far. Black people don't have as much leeway to fuck up, period, and so if a black man was going to be elected president, it's not because he's "as good" as white people, it's because he's twice as good at what he does. I think Jennifer Egan is the Barack Obama of Great American Novelists. Her work has all the sweep and ambition of the other novelists I was talking about, but with so much less ego and so much more discipline. Someone please, read the book and tell me if you agree.