About the Book

Book Protagonist: Sasha Grady Blake
Publication Date: 2010
Genre: Coming of Age
4.3/5

Historical Context

A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ has at least three historical events that set the mood for the overall plot; the terror attack of the World Trade Center in 2001, the 1970s San Francisco punk rock era, and the advent of social media and the internet.

While the event of  9/11 plays a more psychological role in the book – being that it is only felt and not physically lived, the Bay Area’s 70s rock culture and the technology-driven social media age are acutely portrayed in the book. This article will explore the major significant historical context of ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. 

Elements of Memoir in Goon Squad

The story of ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad contains elements of Egan’s life at different points in time – from her girlhood onward into her college years. Born in Chicago in the early 60s but came of age in San Francisco around the time when the hippie movement in Haight Ashbury was gaining ground. 

Then living with her mother and stepfather – and having the liberty of non restriction like most kids her age, Egan experienced the Bay Area culture firsthand  – including going out with friends for a fun time in social gatherings, art exhibition centers (inspired by her mother), concerts and music festivals.

Beyond that, Egan admitted to having, in ninth when she was about age 14 or 15, done more grownup stuff like drinking a little too much, tasting hallucinogens, cocaines, and the likes, and hanging out in gay clubs, and when punk rock arrived, vibed with friends to the craziness of the beat. 

These earlier exposures Egan and her friends shared might not be much, but they did serve as a building block for the later ideas for the narrative and also how some of her protagonists – like Sasha, Rhea, and Jocelyn – live in ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad.

A bit of Egan’s college life, like how she met her husband David Herskovits (but took so long to marry him) – is also rolled into ‘Goon Squad,’ and we see that play with Sasha and Drew – who had a somewhat rollercoaster friendship before meeting later in the future and getting married. 

Does Egan Have Any Background in Musicals?

I’m not really a “music person”… I listen to all music, whether classical or indie rock, with an ear toward structure, and an openness to how I might use a particular music structure in fiction.

This is Jennifer Egan responding to one of her fans on Goodreads who was asking her about the place of music in her life. This quote is important in examining the backstories leading to the author’s incorporation of a key element – music – into her book, ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad,’ and how she learned to exploit the art. 

Egan stating – on Goodreads – she is not a “music person” from the above quote isn’t the only place she has mentioned that. And frankly, this comes without a surprise given how popular ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ is, and how music plays a vital role in it.

Incorporating Musicals Into Her Work

Even though she’s not a musician, nor a ‘music person,’ Music has always played such an important role in Jennifer Egan’s life from girlhood up into adulthood and later in her literary works. With regards to merging music into her work, her 2010 Pulitzer-winning book, ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ and its more recently published sequel ‘The Candy House’ seem to come to mind. 

‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ follows a musical theme as the narrative circles the punk rock music industry, starting from the middle to late 70s – when indie rock bands like The Clash and Talking Heads began thriving, and then capping with 2020s indie rock band like Boygenuis and Death Cab for Cutie. 

Egan’s integration of music into her best-seller comes naturally since she had fair exposure to it from the start. During her first stint in journalism after graduating college, she wanted so badly to cover the music beat for her agency, but was turned down several times because they already had an outstanding reporter covering that. So instead, she channeled that desire into studying the structure of punk music from her personal experience and from a real-world view and recreating them into one of the best-selling fictions of this century. 

Goon Squad and 9/11

The event of suicide attack and the bombing of the World Trade Center is also part of the antecedents of ‘ A Visit from the Goon Squad,’ yet the incident isn’t lived but merely felt in the early part of the book. 

Egan based most of the book’s geographical locations in New York City, which happens to be the same location as the World Trade Center. Even though not much about this event is acted out, Egan makes it obvious there’s a general atmosphere of precariousness, fear, and a heightened sense of awareness in America (which is then reflected in the characters in ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad) given that the event happened in 2001, nine years before ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ was released. 

Goon Squad and the 70s Bay Area Punk Rock

In the era of the hippies and the flower power movement in the United States, this emerging counterculture swept through America powered by the youth – promoting individualism, self, and collective peace, while rejecting established political and economic (especially materialistic) ideologies. 

Haight Ashbury, a San Francisco district, was notoriously patriotic to this cause, with several talented young people and art creatives dominating the movement – spreading their youthful zest and exuberance across Haight Ashbury. It was around the peak of these times that a certain energetic and silently destructive kind of punk rock music was formed. 

This is the same punk music style Egan adopted for her book ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad,’ with the book’s first-generation protagonists like Lou Kline, Bennie Salazar, Sasha Grady, and Scotty Hausman witnessing such an era. However, at the cause of the book’s advancement, we notice the evolution of the same style as it lives across the different times and later years covered in the book. 

Technology and Social Media Usage In Goon Squad

New media technology – particularly social networking platforms – plays important roles in the futuristic events in ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad.’ Although the book was written in 2010, Egan time and again, through foreshadowing, leaps her readers into the future to as far as the 2020s, where there’s a new generation of young characters hooked to certain emergent social networking technologies. 

Such social networking platforms are capitalized on by Bennie, who puts up a social networking management team of Alex and Lulu (a Gen Z) and sold Scotty Hausman’s music concert online to millions – even though prior to that no one knew him or had seen him perform. 

Such is the influence that the new media technologies possess, and Egan’s experimentation with social networking platforms as a means to rallying people and encouraging them to support a cause goes further to show the mind-blowing impact of these technologies, not only in the music industry but also in politics and government. 

FAQs

What important historical event is tied to ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan?

The September 2001 World Trade Center attack proves a major historical event leading the plot, with unprecedented panic and insecurity felt by the characters just as Americans felt after the tragic event. 

Does Egan have any knowledge of punk rock prior to writing ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’?

Jennifer Egan noted herself she doesn’t have any sort of grounded knowledge of music; studying the structure of punk rock culture of the 70s through to this date was what made all the difference, and of course, her personal experience as a young girl growing up in the 70s Haight-Ashbury area. 

What time setting does ‘Goon Squad’ cover?

‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ revolves around the rock music industry – covering the music genres heights from the  1970s – through its evolution in the 2020s

What critical message does Egan seek to communicate with the theme of technology in ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’? 

Egan effectively used social networking platforms and technologies to draw a discrepancy between the 70s and 2020s societies, to show how these technologies have become the game changer and tools for mass social, and political mobilization.  

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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