The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced yesterday, and winning the award for fiction is Jennifer Egan's outstanding, heartbreaking novel A Visit From the Goon Squad--a book which is also, sneakily, some of the best writing about music to come out of the past year. The book follows a group of characters loosely related through music scenes across multiple generations, but it does much more than that. Ann Powers, writing for NPR, compares Egan's sequencing of "interlocking tales" into a "slowly coalescing narrative" to the way "a DJ selects to make for a great night on the dance floor."*
Not to be cliched or pedantic (it's what good music writers do!), but to me the book feels more like a mixtape, which is to say that it's lonely and sad listening rather than social, kinetic music--and that, crucially, its chapters don't so much blend into each other as start and stop discretely; that in fact it's the long gaps between the chapters that gives their interrelation such dramatic weight.
Because Goon Squad is very much about gaps in time. Powers mentions Egan's awesome chapter about pauses in music, stylized as a PowerPoint presentation; in that chapter, an autistic child obsesses over the duration of silences in music, and the importance of their resolutions. But in the book, as in life, each time a gap begins, we don't know how or when or even if it will ever resolve. Characters can drop out and disappear, some silences can turn out to be permanent. At least, that's part of what I took from it--it's complicated, and I'm probably being totally inarticulate here. Regardless, it's one of the best things I read in a year of unusually voracious reading. Unabashedly recommended.
*Powers also gets in some great jabs in her NPR piece regarding the esteem affording pop critics by high cultural institutions such as the Pulitzers. Read the whole thing here.