Friday, May 4, 2012

A Visit from the Egan Squad

As part of PEN's World Voices Festival this year, Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan spoke at The New School about the 'rules' of craft. She was asked mostly about A Visit from the Goon Squad and her answers incorporated larger views about the politics and practices of writing. A few memorable moments--

Egan was convinced that everyone who read A Visit from the Goon Squad received some sort of "invisible innoculation" that produced such an overwhelmingly positive response.

Peter M. to whom the book is dedicated, is her "long time therapist."

When exploring Microsoft Power Point as a medium for one of her sections, she discovered it's "'vibe kill' feel." More importantly, she was fascinated by its lack of continuity (unlike what one would find in a book), the way it is structured as discrete pages, or slides, with definite pauses in between them (again, unlike a book). The irony, she said, is that the Power Point section made the book look "terrible" on an e-reader.

Goon Squad and Egan's other works contain bizarre, unconventional characters, but Egan does not identify clinical conditions. "I'm not my characters' doctor," she explains. "You only diagnose in order to medicate," and Egan is more interested in the affective qualities of her characters.

Reacting to the missing Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year, Egan promoted Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardener.

For the last twenty-odd years, Egan has been part of an oral workshop where work is read out loud. This way, the feedback and reactions are more emotional and visceral, less studied and technical. It's a helpful technique for the writer, as well, who can hear what is working, and what isn't, in the piece.

Egan described the disparate sections of the Goon Squad, whose beginning four chapters were originally stand-alone short stories, are like separate islands that became connected by larger underlying landmass. A brilliant metaphor, I think!