A to B

Goon Squad Chapter 7

7

 A to B

Stephanie and Bennie had lived in Crandale a year before they were invited to a party. It wasn’t a place that warmed easily to strangers. They’d known that going in and hadn’t cared – they had their own friends. But it wore on Stephanie more than she’d expected, dropping off Chris for kindergarten, waving or smiling at some blond mother releasing blond progeny from her SUV or Hummer, and getting back a pinched, quizzical smile whose translation seemed to be: Who are you again? How could they not know, after months of daily mutual sightings? They were snobs or idiots or both, Stephanie told herself, yet she was inexplicably crushed by their coldness.

During that first winter in town, the sister of one of Bennie’s artists sponsored them for membership to the Crandale Country Club. After a process only slightlymore arduous than applying for citizenship, they were admitted in late June. They arrived at the club on their first day carrying bathing suits and towels, not realizing that the CCC (as it was known) provided its own monochromatic towels to reduce the cacophony of poolside color. In the ladies’ locker room, Stephanie passed one of the blondes whose children went to Chris’s school, and for the first time she got an actual ‘Hello,’ her own appearance in two separate locations having apparently fulfilled some triangulation Kathy required as proof of personhood. That was her name: Kathy. Stephanie had known it from the beginning.

Kathy was carrying a tennis racket. She wore a tiny white dress beneath which white tennis shorts, hardly more than underpants, were just visible. Her prodigious childbearing had left no mark on her narrow waist and well-tanned biceps. Her shining hair was in a tight ponytail, stray wisps secured with gold bobby pins.

Stephanie changed into her bathing suit and met Bennie and Chris near the snack bar. As they stood there uncertainly, holding their colorful towels, Stephanie recognized a distant thop, thop of tennis balls. The sound induced a swoon of nostalgia. Like Bennie, she came from nowhere, but a different type of nowhere – his was the urban nowhere of Daly City, California, where his parents had worked to a point of total absence while a weary grandmother raised Bennie and his four sisters. But Stephanie hailed from suburban, midwestern nowhere, and there had been a club whose snack bar served thin, greasy burgers rather than salade niçoise with fresh seared tuna, like this one, but where tennis had been played on sun-cracked courts, and where Stephanie had achieved a certain greatness at around age thirteen. She hadn’t played since.

At the end of that first day, dopey from sun, they’d showered, changed back into their clothes, and sat on a flagstone terrace where a pianist rolled out harmless melodies on a shining upright. The sun was beginning to set. Chris tumbled on some nearby grass with two girls from his kindergarten class. Bennie and Stephanie sipped gin and tonics and watched the fireflies. ‘So this is what it’s like,’ Bennie said.

A number of possible replies occurred to Stephanie: allusions to the fact that they still didn’t know anyone; her suspicion that there wasn’t anyone worth knowing. But she let them pass. It was Bennie who had chosen Crandale, and in some deep way Stephanie understood why: they’d flown in private jets to islands owned by rock stars, but this country club was the farthest distance Bennie had traveled from the dark-eyed grandmother in Daly City. He’d sold his record label last year; how better to mark success than by going to a place where you didn’t belong?

Stephanie took Bennie’s hand and kissed a knuckle. ‘Maybe I’ll buy a tennis racket,’ she said.

The party invitation came three weeks later. The host, a hedge-fund manager known as Duck, had invited them after learning that Bennie had discovered the Conduits, Duck’s

favorite rock group, and released their albums. Stephanie had found the two deep in conversation by the pool when she returned from her first tennis lesson. ‘I wish they’d get back together,’ Duck mused. ‘What ever happened to that spastic guitarist?’

‘Bosco? He’s still recording,’ Bennie said tactfully. ‘His new album will be out in a couple of months: A to B. His solo work is more interior.’ He left out the part about Bosco being obese, alcoholic and cancer-ridden. He was their oldest friend. Stephanie had perched on the edge of Bennie’s deck chair, flushed because she’d hit well, her topspin still intact, her serve slicingly clear.

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Horn! reviews A Visit from the Goon Squad

One of our favourite reviews of A Visit from the Goon Squad so far, Horn! reviews Egan’s novel in the form of a nine panel comic strip, brilliantly capturing the ebb and flow of time, youth, adulthood and death.

We’ll be posting up some more of our favourite reviews over the coming weeks…

And don’t forget that for a limited time only, the special edition app for A Visit from the Goon Squad is available for £2.99…

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X’s and O’s

Goon Squad Chapter 6

6

 X’s and O’s

Here’s how it started: I was sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park reading a copy of Spin I’d swiped from Hudson News, observing East Village females crossing the park on their way home from work and wondering (as I often did) how my ex- wife had managed to populate New York with thousands of women who looked nothing like her but still brought her to mind, when I made a discovery: my old friend Bennie Salazar was a record producer! It was right in Spin magazine, a whole article about Bennie and how he’d made his name on a group called the Conduits that went multiplatinum three or four years ago. There was a picture of Bennie receiving some kind of award, looking out of breath and a little cross-eyed— one of those frozen, hectic instants you just know has a whole happy life attached. I looked at the picture for less than a second; then I closed the magazine. I decided not to think about Bennie. There’s a fine line between thinking about somebody and thinking about not thinking about somebody, but I have the patience and the self- control to walk that line for hours—days, if I have to.

After one week of not thinking about Bennie— thinking so much about not thinking about Bennie that there was barely room left in my brain for thoughts of any other kind—I decided to write him a letter. I addressed it to his record label, which turned out to be inside a green glass building on Park Avenue and Fifty-second Street. I took the subway up there and stood outside the building with my head back, looking up, up, wondering how high Bennie’s office might possibly be. I kept my eyes on the building as I dropped the letter into the mailbox directly in front of it. Hey Benjo, I’d written (that was what I used to call him). Long time no see. I hear you’re the man, now. Congrats. Couldn’t have happened to a luckier guy. Best wishes, Scotty Hausmann.

He wrote back! His letter arrived in my dented East Sixth Street mailbox about five days later, typed, which I guess meant a secretary had done it, but I could tell was Bennie all right:

Scotty baby— Hey thanks for the note. Where have you been hiding yourself? I still think of the Dildo days sometimes. Hope you’re playing that slide guitar. Yours, Bennie, with his little wiggly signature above the typed name.

Bennie’s letter had quite an effect on me. Things had gotten— what’s the word? Dry. Things had gotten sort of dry for me. I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summers, collecting litter in the park alongside the East River near the Williamsburg Bridge. I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all…

follow Scotty Hasumann on Twitter @scottyhausmann…

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You (Plural)

Goon Squad Chapter 55

You (Plural)

It’s all still there: the pool with its blue and yellow tiles from Portugal, water laughing softly down a black stone wall. The house is the same, except quiet. The quiet makes no sense. Nerve gas? Overdoses? Mass arrests? I wonder, as we follow a maid through a curve of carpeted rooms, the pool blinking at us past every window. What else could have stopped the unstoppable parties?

But it’s nothing like that. Twenty years have passed.

He’s in the bedroom, in a hospital bed, tubes up his nose. The second stroke really knocked him out— the first one wasn’t so bad, just one of his legs was a little shaky. That’s what Bennie told me. Bennie from high school, our old friend. Lou’s protégé. He tracked me down at my mother’s, even though she left San Francisco years ago and followed me to LA. Bennie the organizer, rounding up people from the old days to say good- bye to Lou. It seems you can find almost anyone on a computer. He found Rhea all the way in Seattle, with a different last name.

Of our old gang, only Scotty has disappeared. No computer can find him.

Rhea and I stand by Lou’s bed, unsure what to do. We know him from a time when there was no such thing as normal people dying.

There were clues, hints about some bad alternative to being alive (we remembered them together over coffee, Rhea and I, before coming to see him— staring at each other’s new faces across the plastic table, our familiar features rinsed in weird adulthood). There was Scotty’s mom, of course, who died from pills when we were still in high school, but she wasn’t normal. My father, from AIDS, but I hardly saw him by then. Anyway, those were catastrophes. Not like this: prescriptions by the bed, a leaden smell of medicine and vacuumed carpet. It reminds me of being in the hospital. Not the smell, exactly (the hospital doesn’t have carpets), but the dead air, the feeling of being far away from everything.

We stand there, quiet. My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?

Instead I say, “Hi Lou,” and at the very same time, Rhea says, “Wow, everything is just the same!” and we both laugh.

Lou smiles, and the shape of that smile, even with the yellow shocked teeth inside it, is familiar, a warm finger poking at my gut. His smile, coming open in this strange place.

“You girls. Still look gorgeous,” he gasps.

He’s lying. I’m forty-three and so is Rhea, married with three children in Seattle. I can’t get over that: three. I’m back at my mother’s again, trying to finish my B.A. at UCLA Extension after some long, confusing detours. “Your desultory twenties,” my mother calls my lost time, trying to make it sound reasonable and fun, but it started before I was twenty and lasted much longer. I’m praying it’s over. Some mornings, the sun looks wrong outside my window. I sit at the kitchen table shaking salt into the hairs on my arm, and a feeling shoves up in me: It’s finished. Everything went past, without me. Those days I know not to close my eyes for too long, or the fun will really start.

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Goon Squad review on Futurebook

 FutureBook, the Bookseller-associated digital publishing blog, have published a great review by Alastair Horne of  A Visit from the Goon Squad: The Special Edition App.

The novel has received great critical acclaim and recognition from many quarters culminating in the Pulitzer Prize win in April. Alastair Horne, Innovations Manager for CUP and Futurebook blogger, gives an great overview of the app and its various features, showing how a great novel can be read, appreciated, and even enhanced by the digital reading experience.

At last month’s London Book Fair Digital Conference, Bloomsbury’s Head of Print and Digital Evan Schnittman dismissed the book app as dead, claiming that the idea of innovation in the reading process was, outside of education, a non-starter. What A Visit from the Goon Squad demonstrates, however, is that a well-chosen work can benefit enormously from the functionality made possible by the app format. (The penultimate chapter, for instance, in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, almost inevitably works far better on a screen than on a printed page.) This intricate and fascinating ‘novel’ is made an even more rewarding read on screen than it is on the page.

Read the full review

Finally, a reminder that there is still time to win an exclusive signed hardback copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad, by making your suggestions as to who you would cast in the forthcoming HBO serialisation treatment here.

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Another win for Egan (Goon Squad)

A Visit from the Goon Squad receives yet more accolades…

Jennifer Egan (Goon Squad)

Jennifer Egan was awarded with the prize for fiction on Friday April 29th, at the 31st annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad. The ceremony was held at The Times’ Harry Chandler Auditorium and kicked off the Festival of Books that took place last weekend at the University of Southern California.

Jennifer Egan attended the festival on Saturday and was a member of a panel of four fiction authors, who talked about experiments of form in fiction during a debate on ‘Breaking Boundaries’. You can read about the debate and some thoughts from the panelists here.

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Safari

A Visit from the Goon Squad Chapter 4

4

Safari

I. Grass  

‘Remember, Charlie? In Hawaii? When we went to the beach at night and it started to rain?’

Rolph is talking to his older sister, Charlene, who despises her real name. But because they’re crouched around a bonfire with the other people on the safari, and because Rolph doesn’t speak up all that often, and because their father, Lou, sitting behind them on a camp chair (as they draw in the dust with little sticks), is a record producer whose personal life is of general interest, those near enough to hear are listening closely.

‘Remember? How Mom and Dad stayed at the table for one more drink—’

‘Impossible,’ their father interjects, with a wink at the birdwatching ladies to his left. Both women wear binoculars even in the dark, as if hoping to spot birds in the firelit tree overhead.

‘Remember, Charlie? How the beach was still warm, and that crazy wind was blowing?’

But Charlie is focused on her father’s legs, which have intertwined behind her with those of his girlfriend, Mindy. Soon they will bid the group good night and retreat to their tent, where they’ll make love on one of the narrow rickety cots inside it, or possibly on the ground. From the adjacent tent she and Rolph share, Charlie can hear them – not sounds, exactly, but movement. Rolph is too young to notice. Charlie throws back her head, startling her father. Lou is in his late thirties, square-jawed surfer’s face gone a little draggy under the eyes.

‘You were married to Mom on that trip,’ she informs him, her voice distorted by the arching of her neck, which is encircled by a puka-shell choker.

‘Yes, Charlie,’ Lou says. ‘I’m aware of that.’

The elderly bird-watching ladies trade a sad smile. Lou is one of those men whose restless charm has generated a contrail of personal upheaval that is practically visible behind him: two failed marriages and two more kids back home in LA, who were too young to bring on this three-week safari. The safari is a new business venture of Lou’s old army buddy, Ramsey, with whom he drank and misbehaved, having barely avoided Korea almost twenty years ago.

Rolph pulls at his sister’s shoulder. He wants her to remember, to feel it all again: the wind, the endless black ocean, the two of them peering into the dark as if awaiting a signal from their distant, grown-up lives.

‘Remember, Charlie?’

‘Yeah,’ Charlie says, narrowing her eyes. ‘I do remember that.’

The Samburu warriors have arrived – four of them, two holding drums, a child in the shadows minding a yellow longhorn cow. They came yesterday, too, after the morning game run, when Lou and Mindy were ‘napping’. That’s when Charlie exchanged shy glances with the most beautiful warrior, who has scar-tissue designs coiled like railroad tracks over the rigorous architecture of his chest and shoulders and back.

Charlie stands up and moves closer to the warriors: a skinny girl in shorts and a raw cotton shirt with small round buttons made of wood. Her teeth are slightly crooked. When the drummers pat their drums, Charlie’s warrior and the other one begin to sing: guttural noises pried from their abdomens. She sways in front of them. During her ten days in Africa, she has begun to act like a different sort of girl – the sort that intimidates her back home. In a cinder-block town they visited a few days ago, she drank a muddy-looking concoction in a bar and wound up giving away her silver butterfly earrings (a birthday gift from her father) in a hut belonging to a very young woman whose breasts were leaking milk. She was late returning to the jeeps; Albert, who works for Ramsey, had to go and find her. ‘Prepare yourself,’ he warned. ‘Your dad is having kittens.’ Charlie didn’t care and doesn’t now; there’s a charge for her in simply commanding the fickle beam of her father’s attention, feeling his disquiet as she dances, alone, by the fire.

Lou lets go of Mindy’s hand and sits up straight. He wants to grab his daughter’s skinny arm and yank her away from these black men, but does no such thing, of course. That would be letting her win. The warrior smiles at Charlie. He’s nineteen, only five years older than she is, and has lived away from his village since he was ten. But he’s sung for enough American tourists to recognize that in her world, Charlie is a child. Thirty-five years from now, in 2008, this warrior will be caught in the tribal violence between the Kikuyu and the Luo and will die in a fire. He’ll have had four wives and sixty-three grandchildren by then, one of whom, a boy named Joe, will inherit his lalema: the iron hunting dagger in a leather scabbard now hanging at his side. Joe will go to college at Columbia and study engineering, becoming an expert in visual robotic technology that detects the slightest hint of irregular movement (the legacy of a childhood spent scanning the grass for lions). He’ll marry an American named Lulu and remain in New York, where he’ll invent a scanning device that becomes standard issue for crowd security. He and Lulu will buy a loft in Tribeca, where his grandfather’s hunting dagger will be displayed inside a cube of Plexiglas, directly under a skylight.

Read Safari in full on The New York Times website…

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