“I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summers, collecting litter in a 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.”
Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad
Egan hits her characters at points of near-disintegration, as they circle around near rock bottom; she’s actually very good at this, and even while we’re aware that she’s playing with a stacked deck (or a custom-made little universe) the inner crises of her characters manage to keep each of the linked stories’ stakes high. And the flip-side of this, that we see these characters recur in different stories, told by different narrators disintegrating in different ways, giving glimpses of them often having survived moments at rock bottom and come out more or less intact, doesn’t detract from the immediate crisis, actually conveys a certain amount of hard-won experience and understanding that it’s possible and necessary to go on. This bit, which is one of three moments between Scotty and Benny — high-school bandmates previously; here about to meet again as adults for the first time, with Benny a success and Scotty decidedly not; later concluding the novel together at some near-future point — repeats that, undermines it a little through articulation. It also, I think, emphasizes the insularity of the world of the novel, its dependence on an idea of New York that enables scenes like this, with all things magnetized to Manhattan as the center of the world and serendipity expected rather than rare.
March 14, 2014, 2:34pm Comments