A Visit from the Goon Squad
Look at Me
Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
The high ideals and inevitable compromises of the 1960's form the background to this acclaimed first novel. Phoebe O'Connor, eighteen years old in the summer of 1978, is too young to know the 1960s, but old enough to feel its influences. Living in San Francisco with her widowed mother, Phoebe is obsessed with the memory of her charismatic older sister, Faith, a flower child who died in 1970. Searching for the truth about her death and life, Phoebe follows Faith's trail from San Francisco through Europe, culminating in the very place where she leapt to her death. The truth that Phoebe discovers is larger and darker than one death; it goes to the ambiguous heart of a generation that tried to follow its dreams of freedom, only to defer those dreams. Click here to read the full book review.
|1.||Do the 60s have enduring symbolism for America? How do we understand and misunderstand this era in our history?|
|2.||Are you able to characterize your generation? What traits would you ascribe to it?|
|3.||Describe the moment in which Phoebe first understands her sister's suicide. What finally allows her to see the truth?|
|4.||Talk about the most important rite of passage you experienced. Compare the feelings and beliefs you held before with those you held after.|
|5.||When Phoebe meets Wolf -- the man who accompanied Faith in Europe -- how does her journey change? What does Wolf show Phoebe about herself?|
|6.||The Invisible Circus traces a younger sister's search for her older sister. In what ways might the novel differ if the author had chosen to make the characters brothers?|
|7.||Does the title of the book deepen your understanding of the plot? How does the circus in chapter one reflect Phoebe's experience?|
|8.||What role do images -- paintings, photographs, postcards, and so on play in the novel? Is there a religious dimension to some of them?|
These questions are provided by Reading Group Guides.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Tracy read this book in May 2011 and it was her OurBookClub book pick for that month. Not only did it win Jennifer gan the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and see her longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize, it also won her a swag of other awards. It is interesting - something very different to the books that were around at that time and it would make a good discussion book to see how readers interpret the different styles Egan incorporates into her book. Click here to read the full book review.
|1.||A Visit from the Goon Squad shifts among various perspectives, voices, and time periods, and in one striking chapter (pp. 176–251), departs from conventional narrative entirely. What does the mixture of voices and narrative forms convey about the nature of experience and the creation of memories? Why has Egan arranged the stories out of chronological sequence?|
|2.||In “A to B” Bosco unintentionally coins the phrase “Time’s a goon” (p. 96), used again by Bennie in “Pure Language” (p.269). What does Bosco mean? What does Bennie mean? What does the author mean?|
|3.||“Found Objects” and “The Gold Cure” include accounts of Sasha’s and Bennie’s therapy sessions. Sasha picks and chooses what she shares: “She did this for Coz’s protection and her own --- they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances” (p. 7). Bennie tries to adhere to a list of no-no’s his shrink has supplied (pp. 18-19). What do the tone and the content of these sections suggest about the purpose and value of therapy? Do they provide a helpful perspective on the characters?|
|4.||Lou makes his first appearance in “Ask Me If I Care” (pp. 30–44) as an unprincipled, highly successful businessman; “Safari” (pp. 45–63) provides an intimate, disturbing look at the way he treats his children and lover; and “You (Plural)” (pp. 64–69) presents him as a sick old man. What do his relationships with Rhea and Mindy have in common? To what extent do both women accept (and perhaps encourage) his abhorrent behavior, and why to they do so? Do the conversations between Lou and Rolph, and Rolph’s interactions with his sister and Mindy, prepare you for the tragedy that occurs almost twenty years later? What emotions does Lou’s afternoon in “You (Plural)” with Jocelyn and Rhea provoke? Is he basically the same person he was in the earlier chapters?|
|5.||Why does Scotty decide to get in touch with Bennie? What strategies do each of them employ as they spar with each other? How does the past, including Scotty’s dominant role in the band and his marriage to Alice, the girl both men pursued, affect the balance of power? In what ways is Scotty’s belief that “one key ingredient of so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and special, that those included in it are privileged and those excluded from it are missing out” (p. 74) confirmed at the meeting? Is their reunion in “Pure Language” a continuation of the pattern set when they were teenagers, or does it reflect changes in their fortunes as well as in the world around them?|
|6.||Sasha’s troubled background comes to light in “Good-bye, My Love” (p. 157). Do Ted’s recollections of her childhood explain Sasha’s behavior? To what extent is Sasha’s “catalog of woes” representative of her generation as a whole? How do Ted’s feelings about his career and wife color his reactions to Sasha? What does the flash-forward to “another day more than twenty years after this one” (p. 175) imply about the transitory moments in our lives?|
|7.||Musicians, groupies, and entertainment executives and publicists figure prominently in A Visit from the Goon Squad. What do the careers and private lives of Bennie, Lou, and Scotty (“X’s and O’s”; “Pure Language”); Bosco and Stephanie (“A to B”); and Dolly (“Selling the General”) suggest about American culture and society over the decades? Discuss how specific details and cultural references (e.g., names of real people, bands, and venues) add authenticity to Egan’s fictional creations.|
|8.||The chapters in this book can be read as stand-alone stories. How does this affect the reader’s engagement with individual characters and the events in their lives? Which characters or stories did you find the most compelling? By the end, does everything fall into place to form a satisfying storyline?|
|9.||Read the quotation from Proust that Egan uses as an epigraph (p. vii). How do Proust’s observations apply to A Visit from the Goon Squad? What impact do changing times and different contexts have on how the characters perceive and present themselves? Are the attitudes and actions of some characters more consistent than others, and if so, why?|
|10.||In a recent interview Egan said, “I think anyone who’s writing satirically about the future of American life often looks prophetic…I think we’re all part of the zeitgeist and we’re all listening to and absorbing the same things, consciously or unconsciously…” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 8, 2010). Considering current social trends and political realities, including fears of war and environmental devastation, evaluate the future Egan envisions in “Pure Language” and “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.”|
These questions are provided by Reading Group Guides.
Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
At the start of this edgy and ambitiously multilayered novel, a fashion model named Charlotte Swenson emerges from a car accident in her Illinois hometown with her face so badly shattered that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble it. She returns to New York still beautiful but oddly unrecognizable, a virtual stranger in the world she once effortlessly occupied. With the surreal authority of a David Lynch, Jennifer Egan threads Charlotte’s narrative with those of other casualties of our infatuation with the image. There’s a deceptively plain teenaged girl embarking on a dangerous secret life, an alcoholic private eye, and an enigmatic stranger who changes names and accents as he prepares an apocalyptic blow against American society. As these narratives inexorably converge, Look at Me becomes a coolly mesmerizing intellectual thriller of identity and imposture. Click here to read the full book review.
|1.||“I was not Rockford—I was its opposite, whatever that might be, ” Charlotte declares. In Charlotte’s mind, what does Rockford represent? How is her chosen path a reaction to her place of birth? Is her return to Rockford at the end of the book merely circumstantial, or does it represent a symbolic shift in her perception of her hometown?|
|2.||Charlotte describes her notion of the shadow self as, “that caricature that clings to each of us, revealing itself in odd moments when we laugh or fall still, staring brazenly from certain bad photographs.” Why does this concept interest Charlotte, and what does that reveal about her character? What do you imagine Charlotte’s shadow self looks like? Does it change after her accident?|
|3.||Many of the characters in Look at Me undergo major transformations—whether during the course of the novel or before it begins. In what specific ways do the characters change, and how do these changes affect their lives? Which transformations do you find most surprising? How is the idea of transformation linked to the novel’s larger thematic concerns about identity and self?|
|4.||Discuss Z/Michael West. For what is he searching, and what does he find? How does his personal journey mirror Charlotte Swenson’s?|
|5.||While recuperating from her accident and subsequent surgery, Charlotte allows none of her friends or acquaintances to see her. Once people see you in a weakened state, she claims, they’ll never forget, “and long after you’ve regained your vitality, after you yourself have forgotten these exhibits of your weakness, they’ll look at you and stillsee them.” How does this statement reflect Charlotte’s worldview at the beginning of the book? Is she right? Is her perspective borne out over the course of the novel, or does it evolve?|
|6.||Misperceptions and misunderstandings play a crucial role in the plot of Look at Me; characters often reach for something they believe they see in one another, only to find that they were mistaken, or even purposely deceived. Identify some of these misunderstandings and talk about their significance to the novel as a whole.|
|7.||Charlotte says, “information was not a thing—it was colorless, odorless, shapeless, and therefore indestructible. There was no way to retrieve or void it, no way to halt its proliferation.” Compare this statement to Moose’s idea that “now the world’s blindness came from too much sight, appearances disjoined from anything real, afloat upon nothing, in the service of nothing, cut off from every source of blood and life.” What is the connection between these two statements? Do they present differing views of the world or simply different interpretations of the same problem? In the end, does Look at Me seem to sanction them or call them into question?|
|8.||Despite his apparent instability, there is a peculiar beauty in Moose’s striving for vision and in his efforts to communicate that vision to the young Charlotte. For what is he looking? Define, if you can, his odd emotional and spiritual response to industrial and historical events. When Moose experiences his vision once again at the end of the novel, what exactly do you think he sees?|
|9.||Discuss Charlotte’s relationship with Irene Maitlock. What is it about Irene that draws Charlotte to her? Do you see any connection between this relationship and Charlotte’s friendship with Ellen Metcalf? How does Charlotte and Irene’s relationship change over the course of the book?|
|10.||All of the characters in Egan’s novel deal differently with the concept of memory: Michael West allows himself just one memory a day, Charlotte shuns her memories, and Moose exists in a world saturated by memories of his own life, along with imagined recollections of an earlier historical time. What connection does the novel suggest between personal memory and cultural memory? How do you suppose the young Charlotte might feel about her memories twenty years down the road?|
|11.||Look at Me begins by recounting Charlotte Swenson and Ellen Metcalf’s girlhood sexual misadventures. At the end of the novel, Charlotte and Ellen meet again, in very different circumstances. Talk about both women’s experiences in the interim, and about the significance of their last meeting. Did it satisfy you?|
|12.||At the end of the novel, Charlotte demurs, “As for myself, I’d rather not say very much.” Indeed, the novel seems intentionally to leave us without a clear sense of what the future holds for its characters. Why do you think Egan has chosen to end her book so ambiguously? What sorts of lives will the Charlottes, Ellen Metcalf/Hauser, Z, Moose, Ricky, and Irene Maitlock go on to live?|
|13.||Do you feel that Look at Me, with its depiction of how behind-the-scenes events contribute in the making of public images, will have any impact on the way you perceive celebrities?|
|14.||Do you consider Look at Me—in particular, its brutal portrayal of the modeling world—a futuristic novel? Or can it be read it as a fairly accurate look at our present, evolving world? Might there be some way of escaping some of the disturbing scenes Egan describes?|
These questions are provided by the Publisher.