Forget Jonathan Franzen. For those counting, Jennifer Egan may be a better contender for the greatest American author of her generation. It's a silly exercise, but if you're going to do it, they're neck-in-neck. Let's stack them up: like Franzen, Egan's latest, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Goon Squad and Franzen's The Corrections have both been optioned by highbrow-to-the-masses network HBO — but Franzen is only on the hook for a multi-part mini-series, whereas Egan is in talks to develop a whole series. So there, Franzen! Egan will be in town Saturday for the Boston Book Festival. We spoke via telephone from her home in Brooklyn about Goon Squad, the nature of time, and how Facebook ensures we'll never escape our past.
SLEEPER The Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad “sold terribly at the beginning,” says Egan. “And I’m sure part of it was that people had no idea what the hell it was. It was a picture of a guitar, an odd title, and no label.”
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD GOT A LOT OF ACCLAIM: YOU WON A PULITZER PRIZE, EVEN. WHY DO YOU THINK IT RESONATED SO STRONGLY WITH PEOPLE? It’s a curious thing. I think I’ve had the good luck to somehow satisfy some kind of hunger that existed at this moment. I think it may be because the music industry is in such trouble right now, and that trouble is so connected to technological change. I think a book that remembers the time when rock and roll was so powerful is oddly satisfying in a nostalgic way.
I also think that it’s the way the book moves. People have mentioned that it seems to mimic online experience, kind of hypertext. I’m curious then, boom! — I’m right in the middle of it. That metaphor was not in my mind as I worked on it. I tended to think of it more as a book that is structured around the movement of curiosity: forward, backward, and laterally. It may be that my interest in writing that way in this moment was in some way born of a sense that suggests online experience, and it may be that that was appealing to people at this moment for that reason.
A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE ASKED IF GOON SQUAD IS A NOVEL OR A SET OF INTERSECTING SHORT STORIES. DOES IT MATTER? It does not matter, no. I think sometimes people invest these terms with a kind of universality that it’s important to remember that they don’t possess. I mean, it’s a work of fiction. I very much doubt it that it would conform to people’s expectations of a novel. For the hardback I would not let them call it a novel. It has no designation on the cover, which in retrospect was a gigantic blunder. It sold terribly at the beginning, and I’m sure part of it was that people had no idea what the hell it was. It was a picture of a guitar, an odd title, and no label. “Is this a nonfiction book about guitars? I mean, what have we got here?” I would go into Barnes & Nobles and I could just feel the lack of heat around this book. There were just a few lonely little books on the octagon and you could tell not a single human had approached them.
, Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize, nostalgia, More