I don’t think the world needs any more people shouting how wonderful this book is. But I’ll do it anyway. As a devoted Rolling Stone subscriber (& Spin, Vibe, Consequence of Sound, NPR follower) & as someone who was certainly born in the wrong generation, I feel a duty to review this book.
This book is the shit. Jennifer Egan is my new spirit animal. I want to tattoo this book to my body. & now I know a lot of songs with pauses in them.
The blurbs or descriptions on the back cover don’t really convey the full greatness of the writing. “Bennie is an aging former punk rocker &record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs.” This description is so cliche that I’m going to assume it’s a ploy. The book is so much more than this.
Bennie & Sasha, though integral characters in their own chapters, play side characters in others. Each chapter focuses on a different, lesser known character from a previous or future chapter, while switching time periods from the 60’s to the near future & places from California to Kenya (thought of course New York is my favorite setting & there’s a lot of that too). Egan has said that the books is “like an album, each story stands really solidly on its own legs, yet contributes to a broader vision in a vital way.”
The overall tone is reflective & a bit melancholic. The characters are often referred to as “self-destructive” types, but they behave with such real humanity that it’s hard not to relate to at least one. Plus, character ages vary from attention deprived children to fading rocker oldies.
Egan’s understanding of pop culture & human nature blends into a mix that makes you feel as though what you’re reading isn’t even fiction half the time, even in the most surreal chapters, such as Selling the General, or the almost sci-fi chapter, Pure Language. The majority reads more like contemporary fiction or what contemporary would’ve been in 80’s, 90’s, & what not. Although I don’t even know what to call the chapter Great Rock N Roll Pauses, in which Egan gives you several pages of PowerPoint diary entries from the point of view of Sasha’s daughter in the near future. But it is by far my favorite chapter.
There are common themes here. Distrust of technology, the effects of time & aging, & a lot of influence from Proust. But they’re presented in such a way that is memorable & natural.
Overall, what I loved was how attached I became to these characters within the short bits of their lives you’re able to see. I felt like I knew these people. I hated & loved them. I was them. But the real character was the story itself, & American culture.
The novel had it’s own music to it & I made a playlist of songs I listened to while reading. Most are mentioned in the text, but some I included because the band was named, it had a relatable title, Egan has mentioned it in an interview, or some I just thought fit well. I’ve been doing this for other reviews & will keep doing it in the future, so follow my Spotify account for updates. For a more popular playlist by Kate Bittman, click here.