I'm a little embarrassed to admit I first put A Visit from the Goon Squad on my to read list because I thought it was a literary novel about the mafia. What can I say, I think the mob is endlessly fascinating! By the time I figured out it was actually about the music industry, author Jennifer Egan had won the Pulitzer Prize, and was waging a battle against sexism in book reviews (including Time magazine, who celebrated her Pulitzer win by putting Jonathan Franzen on their cover), and even though I can't say I'm much interested in the music industry, I was interested in reading Egan.
And even though there were no mobsters in the entire book (the goon squad is a metaphor for time), and I read the book a few months ago, it's lingered on in my mind. As I said in my Goodreads review:
"Each chapter takes place in a different time period, with a different point of view character, yet each chapter comments on the others, provides context for characters' pasts or futures, and circles around the story's main themes of history, destiny, and change. On top of all that, Egan frequently plays with structure, telling one chapter in second person, another solely in power point slides, a third makes heavy use of futuristic text-speak. While I never found the book a page-turner, I was in awe. I have no idea how Egan managed to pull all this off. How does an author create a meaningful, thought-provoking and gut-punching chapter all in power points?! Or a totally sympathetic point of view character in a few lines? Beautifully written, and definitely worth a re-read to fully understand how all the characters intersect and to desperately try and study Egan's masterful craft."
I'm especially still thinking about that Power Point chapter (you can see it in its entirety on Egan's website under "Great Rock and Roll Pauses"), and its 12-year-old narrator, who can't communicate with her family, and worries they're falling away from each other, and can only truly express her feelings through her computer diary, showing arrows and graphs and ven diagrams. I know plenty of kids like her, who are more comfortable changing the font color and background images on a slide than writing an essay. And I totally believed in her and was moved by her story.
And it got me thinking about playing with structure. Why don't I do that more often? Of course, done poorly, it's just intellectual snobbery. But when structure reflects a character's personality and emotions--that's gold.
Speaking of playing with structure, I'm also a big fan of e. e. cummings' poetry. Have you seen this one?
For those of you unfamiliar with e. e. cummings, read down, inside and outside the parentheses, to get "a leaf falls" and "loneliness". Somehow the structure and the spacing, and that line with the word "one," convey so much more than those single words.
Egan and Cummings challenge me to play with structure in my own writing. Have you ever done anything unique with your writing structure? Did it work? And any other examples of poignant structure that need to go on my to-read list?