A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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A Visit From the Goon Squad was the 2011 Pulitzer prize winning fiction novel written by Jennifer Egan. This novel is different from a typical novel because it is composed of thirteen chapters, each told from a different character’s perspective. Novels are often told from one point of view and focuses on one character’s journey to overcome an obstacle. According to Melanie Anne Phillips, an archetypal protagonist has a conflict and is the force which “drives the plot forward”. They will be tested in high stake situations and by the end of their story, the protagonist should have pressed forward “until all the obstacles to success are either overcome or [have] slowly eroded”. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, all of the chapters address the idea of time and the inevitable change which comes with it. Each chapter shows readers the different responses towards change that people can have. Many of the character’s lives in A Visit From the Goon Squad are connected to and are greatly impacted by Sasha Blake. Egan’s choice to use multiple perspectives and nonlinear time functions to show readers how protagonist Sasha Blake’s identity evolved over time. Each chapter indirectly gives readers details about Sasha’s life, taking readers along her journey of defeating kleptomania to find her true self.

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The first chapter titled “Found Objects” is told from the perspective of the novel’s protagonist Sasha Blake. In this chapter, Sasha sits in her therapist’s office, describing a date she had with a young man named Alex. Readers learn about Sasha’s battle with kleptomania as she tells her therapist Coz about the wallet she stole during her date. She saw the “fat, tender wallet” in a woman's purse while she was using the restroom and couldn’t resist the urge to steal it

It seems like Sasha’s battle against kleptomania is lost when she takes the wallet but, when the woman realizes she was robbed and causes a scene at the hotel, Sasha sees it as an opportunity to return the stolen object. She goes back into the restroom to hide the wallet but, is caught by the woman before she finishes hiding it. Sasha apologizes and confesses to the woman that kleptomania is a “problem I have, but I’m getting help. I just—please don’t tell. I’m hanging on by a thread”. Sasha doesn’t want the world to know that she is a kleptomaniac so she lives her life rejecting her identity because she is unable to accept who she has become over time.

The past is a place of comfort and gives people a sense of familiarity so when people look back in time, they often wish things would go back to the way they used to be. Because Sasha looks back at the past and compares herself to old self, Sasha is disconnected from the present. Lois Tyson says if one’s “sense of self [can be] insecure or unstable if we are unable to sustain a feeling of personal identity… [or] knowing ourselves” it can cause them to be “very vulnerable to the influence of other people”. Tyson’s idea of vulnerability as a result of insecurity can be seen in Sasha’s kleptomania and her refusal to admit her destructive addiction. Sasha’s lack of identity and connection leads her to steal objects from people that people have a connection to. The tables in her apartment are filled with “pens, binoculars, keys, a child’s scarf, and a screwdriver” along with other miscellaneous items. Because she fears intimacy, Sasha steals things with authentic or with somewhat of a “historical” significance to their owners in order to feel like she has connected with someone. Sasha overcomes her kleptomania by the end of the chapter by returning the wallet, admitting her addiction, and being vulnerable (telling her therapist about her kleptomania).

Sasha pushes the plot Bennie Salazar’s chapter “The Gold Cure” forward and is present in almost every important scene. In “The Gold Cure”, Bennie Salazar’s main conflict in was finding a restoring his sex drive which Sasha played a large role in curing. Bennie’s insecurity about his sexual impotency is similar to Sasha’s conflict because they both struggle with accepting their flaws. Sasha’s breasts were the objects that Bennie looked at to gauge whether or not the gold flakes in his coffee have successfully restored his sexual impotency. She was present when readers first learned about his conflict when “Sasha, brought him coffee...[and he] pinched a few gold flakes between his trembling fingers, and released them into his cup” hoping that the “gold and coffee [would]... ensure sexual potency”. A recent study from the University of Texas Health Science Center found that men “over the age of 20 who consumed the caffeine equivalent of 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were less likely to report [erectile dysfunction] than men who steered clear of the stimulant” . Towards the end of his chapter, Bennie finally feels arousal when he looks at Sasha with music playing in the background. Maybe Bennie’s consumption of caffeine and gold flakes restored his expired sex drive, or maybe, it was Sasha. Bennie realizes he has feelings for Sasha after he gets aroused by her and confesses his attraction towards her. Sasha’s fear of intimacy causes her to reject Bennie’s affection. This chapter’s main focus was on curing Bennie’s sex drive but, Sasha’s character also helped Bennie’s character push the plot forward. Through Bennie’s perspective, readers get more of Sasha’s backstory and the way her struggle with kleptomania and disconnection may have lead her to where she was in “Found Objects”.

In later chapters, readers learn even more about Sasha’s past. In her friend, Rob’s chapter, readers learn about Sasha’s teenage year and when her addiction to stealing started. She started shoplifting with her friends when she was 13 and it became an addiction because the excitement of it “made her whole body glow”. After readers learn about Sasha's reckless teenage years in Rob’s chapter, the following shows readers her childhood through Ted Hollander, her uncle and protector. Ted describes Sasha’s life in Naples after had run away from her family two years ago at age 17. In his chapter, Sasha is currently age 19, a prostitute at Lars and addicted to drugs. He remembers Sasha’s childhood as full of violence and tried to shield her from her broken family. Ted remembered a summer when he was on vacation with Sasha and her parents, “the casualties by summer's end included the majolica plate Ted had given Beth for her birthday; sundry items of damaged furniture; Beth's left shoulder which Andy dislocated twice; and her collarbone, which he broke”.Through that memory, readers learn more about Sasha’s childhood and the violence she was exposed to at a young age. Psychologist MJ Goldan’s discovered a relationship linking “compulsive stealing to childhood trauma [to] neglectful or abusive parents and stealing may symbolize repossessing the losses of childhood”. It’s clear that Sasha didn’t have a childhood where she could building strong relationships or had a strong foundation to find her identity because of the traumatizing violence she witnessed. Because she lacked the stable family for laying a strong foundations of finding her identity, it set her up for destructive life choices like kleptomania, prostitution, and drug usage.

Sasha’s struggle is finally resolved in Alice’s chapter. The function of this chapter was to show readers the way Sasha’s life turned out, after all the struggles she had. Through Alice, readers find out that Sasha ends up reconnecting with Drew through FaceBook, marries him and has two children. Sasha moves from New York, to a desert in California and finally overcomes her battle against kleptomania. By making collages out of “trash” (found objects), Sasha finds a difference a way to express herself and move on from her kleptomania phase. Her character has successfully overcome her obstacles and has resolve her conflict with kleptomania.

A Visit From the Goon Squad begins and ends with Sasha as the focus of the novel. The final chapter is narrated by Alex, the young man that Sasha was on a date with in “Found Objects”. Set in the future, Alex is working under Bennie Salazar and is secretly promoting a concert. All of the characters have grown up, and readers see the ways their personalities have changed. Alex’s main focus in this chapter was on Sasha- he had forgotten her name but, remembered she was someone who had been important to him. After remembering Sasha, both Bennie and Alex visit Sasha's old apartment, hoping to see her again. Readers know Sasha won't be there because she’s in California but, they are still given hope that there might be one final reunion. Although Sasha is not present in this final chapter, the memory of Sasha is still one of the forces that drove this chater’s plot forward. When Alex realizes Sasha no longer lives there, he says that he hopes she’s had a good life. By ending the book with Sasha as the main focus, readers see the lasting impacts that Sasha has made on so many people’s lives.

Sasha is the protagonist of A Visit From the Goon Squad because her character had a significant impact on all of the chapters that she is a part of. There is a deeper development of Sasha’s character throughout the novel in each chapter she is featured in. Although Sasha wasn’t featured in every single chapter, she was present in seven out of the thirteen chapters, with each giving readers a new piece of information about her past, future, or present. Whether they are past acquaintances, family, or connected to someone she was close with, there is an interconnectivity between all of them that leads back to Sasha. Readers learn about Sasha’s story through other character’s chapters and drives the plot forward with the lasting impacts she’s made on their lives.With the book beginning and ending focus on Sasha, it shows her significance through the themes of time, memory and identity.

The reason why Bennie Salazar is not the protagonist of the novel is because of the way his chapter unfolded. Although Bennie Salazar also overcomes his struggles over the course of the novel, the chapter that he narrated heavily featured Sasha. When comparing Bennie’s chapter to Sasha’s, in almost all of the significant scenes, Sasha was present. Sasha’s chapter on the other hand only had one line which mentioned her ex-boss. Because Sasha’s chapter barely mentioned Bennie, readers do not get the impression that Bennie had a large effect on Sasha’s life. Oppositely, because Bennie’s chapter constantly mentioned Sasha, readers get the idea that Sasha had a large influence on his life.

Through the all the perspectives provided by Egan, readers see the evolution of Sasha’s character over the years. When Sasha was first introduced to the plot, she was kleptomaniac who was hoping to get her life back on track soon by breaking her cycle of destructive behavior. Then through other narrators, the readers learn about her violent childhood, prostitution, and . Lastly the reader learns of how she overcame the troubles in her life, made the right choices, and lived happily in the California desert. Her character has improved over the course of the novel by overcoming her struggles and ultimately resolve her conflict within herself. The audience is able to see how Sasha views herself and the way that other characters may perceive her. Instead of a biased narrative, there's a more subjective story being told about Sasha’s life. Not only is Egan able to show readers a less biased version of Sasha’s journey to redemption through multiple perspective but, Egan also is able to create a complex web of connections between the narrators. Having a web of characters adds to the novel’s topic of interconnection and the complex relationships we form throughout our lives. The scattered timeline and putting the focus not totally on Sasha is like life because you will never know anyones full life story. Sasha embodies the novel’s themes of growth, passage of time and connection. Sasha's impact is so large in this novel because the butterfly effect, each decision that Sasha makes has an effect on another person’s story.  

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