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A Visit from the Goon Squad: a Myriad of Different Stories

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Many people have been debating whether, A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, is a novel or collection of short stories. It is easy to look at it as a collection of short stories, all relating to each other, but it is also possible to look at the story like a concept album. Looking at each chapter as a different song, and the entire story as a full album. A concept album is “an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually” (Wikipedia Concept Album). While reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, each chapter is out of order, but the characters overlap and appear in different points of their lives. The collection of these out of order chapters, or short stories, create an effect when they are brought together. It gives these stories more meaning and background information that you would not get otherwise. If this story is looked at as a concept album, it would be beneficial to compare it to an existing concept album to see how similar they are. An example of a concept album that can be related to this story is “Fearless” by Taylor Swift. This album was released in 2008, right after she graduated high school. The album looks at different relationships that she had in high school, and other relationships that her friends had and brings up important lessons that they have learned during those four years. While the album “takes place” after high school, Taylor bounces around the four years and even looks at the future. The songs are not in order chronologically, and this can be related to Egan’s story. Both the structure and major themes of “Goon Squad” and “Fearless” are similar, and this further proves that Egan’s story can be looked at as a Concept Album.

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The way “Goon Squad” and “Fearless” introduce their characters and background information can be looked at as very similar. In Egan’s story, chapter one starts with Sasha, the main character, on a first date with Alex in 2008. They go out for dinner, and we learn a bit about Sasha’s history with stealing. Then in chapter 2, Bennie is introduced as a record executive in 2006. In Taylor Swift’s album “Fearless”, the first song titled “Fearless”, is about the beginning of a relationship, just like the beginning of “Goon Squad”. Just like in the book, we don’t know how that first relationship lasts or if it will become something special in the future. Taylor talks about that night and says: “Well you stood there with me in the doorway / my hands shake / I’m not usually this way but / you pull me in and I’m a little more brave” (Fearless, Fearless Album). This shows Taylor’s experience and thought that night and we get some background on who she is and how she is feeling. Then, in the 2nd song, “Fifteen”, Taylor looks back at herself as a fifteen-year-old freshman year of high school. She sings to her fifteen-year-old self about how she met her best friend and what it was like freshman year: “You sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail / and soon enough you’re best friends / laughing at the other girls / who think they’re so cool” (Fifteen, Fearless Album). Taylor is looking back at freshman year, just like how Egan shows Bennie’s teenage years in chapter 3. It is 1979 and Bennie is a teenager and hanging with his friends. The way Egan and Swift introduce their “stories” are similar in how they introduce the characters and show their past and the people they are friends with now and how they originally met.

Not only are the first few chapters or songs similar, but the middle section is as well. In both the story and album, after the characters are introduced, their pasts and futures are shown in different scenarios. In the “Goon Squad”, after Egan introduces Sasha and Bennie, and show Bennie as a teenager, Bennie’s childhood friend Lou is introduced as a teenager and then later shown as an adult as he is dying. Then Bennie is shown again as an adult, even older than he was originally in chapter 2. In the 3rd song of the Taylor Swift album, “Love Story”, it is based off Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, in Juliet’s perspective, but with a happy ending. It turns Shakespeare’s play into a love story and is based off a boyfriend that Taylor had in high school, and no one in her family or friends liked him. When Taylor sings, “ Marry me, Juliet, you’ll never have to be alone / I love you and that’s all I really know / I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress / It’s a love story, baby just say yes” (Love Story, Fearless Album), she shows a new perspective of Romeo and Juliet’s life. This song is about Romeo and Juliet, two characters that are not related to the main character, just like how Egan has chapters about characters that are not related to Sasha or Bennie. Then, later in the album, Taylor sings a song “You Belong With Me” which is about Taylor hearing a conversation about a guy talking to his girlfriend on the phone and saying she belongs with him and trying to win her back. When Taylor says, “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend / she’s upset / she’s going off about something that you said / cause she doesn’t get your humor like I do” (You Belong With Me, Fearless Album), she shows, from her own perspective, a boyfriend talking to her girlfriend on the phone trying to win her back. Taylor is jealous in this moment, and it is similar to when Rob is jealous of Drew in chapter 10. Throughout the middle of the story and album, the story out of order, and this creates each part of the story to be more personalized and meaningful. Taylor’s album jumps around through the four years of high school and different relationships between friends and boyfriends are shown through different points of their lives. In both the story and album, jealousy, love and other themes and life lessons. These themes and life lessons would not be as evident or thoughtful if the stories were in chronological order.

Lastly, the endings of “Goon Squad” and “Fearless” are quite similar as well. Throughout the story, Egan and Swift set up lots of different stories for characters and at the end, is able to relate everything together. In Egan’s story, Sasha is shown as an adult dating her boyfriend, Drew, and then 20 years later, she is married to him and they have a kid. Then, Bennie is shown with Alex, the same Alex that Sasha was dating in chapter 1, and then Bennie trying to find Sasha, but she does not live in the same place. In Taylor Swift’s album, the structure is similar, but only over the course of a few years, rather than a lifetime. At the end of the Album, Taylor sings “Change” which is about how the four years have changed and that they worked so hard to get where they are how they are now going off to college and their lives will forever be changed. When Taylor sings, “Tonight we’ll stand, get off our knees / fight for what we’ve work for all these years / and the battle was long, it’s the fight of our lives / but we’ll stand up like champions tonight” (Change, Fearless Album), she shows that it’s time for a change, after high school, and that they worked so hard to get where they are now and they cannot accomplish anything. The endings of both the book and album are similar as they relate all the pieces together and end by showing the future and what it looks like. Both Egan and Swift are able to look at the past and future and analysis how they got there and what it took to be so successful.

The structure that Egan and Swift chose for their stories are similar in how they introduce the characters, show their past, as well as the future. Because the structure is so similar, it is possible to look at each chapter of Egan’s story as an individual song and the whole story as a concept album. By looking at Egan’s story as a concept album, it makes the story more meaningful and gives it a greater purpose. Although Egan’s story is not actually a concept album, each chapter/song, when put together, creates a bigger piece of work that means more to the audience and allows them to appreciate it more.

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