Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Jennifer Eagen’s A Visit from the Good Squad presents a compilation of short stories that vary in time, place, and perspective. Though each story stands independently, most published in newspapers and magazines by themselves over the course of a few years, together the individual vignettes combine to form a whole. Common themes weave through the sections to form a montage of the self-contemplation of time—the past self, the present self, and the future self. Eagen introduces a quirky yet relatable cast of music world misfits on journeys of self-discovery.
Each story presents the characters at different times in their lives, from adolescence to adulthood to the not-so-distant future. Eagen introduces Bennie Salazaar as a music producer at Sow Ear Records in New York City. We meet Sasha, Bennie’s assistant with the uncontrollable compulsion to steal. Later we journey with Sasha through Naples and the Italian coast. We observe Bennie as a teenager, who along with Alice, Jocelyn, Scotty, form a 1979 punk-rock band striving for fame in rundown, San Franciscan garages. Eagen introduces Lou Kline, an eccentric music producer who overindulges in drugs and women, recognizes Bennie’s young talent, and makes Bennie his protégé. Eagen reacquaints us with Scotty in his adulthood when he coins the phrase “Time’s a goon” while he contemplates his unaccomplished life, wondering how he digresses as a person over time. Jocelyn reaches adulthood and panics:
We stand there, quiet. My questions all seem wrong: How did you get so old? Was it all at once, in a day, or did you peter out bit by bit? When did you stop having parties? Did everyone else get old too, or was it just you? Are other people still here, hiding in the palm trees or holding their breath underwater? When did you last swim your laps? Do your bones hurt? Did you know this was coming and hide that you knew, or did it ambush you from behind?
What does time do to the individual?
Eagen creates sharp, distinct stories with strong characters who captivate the reader and carry the plot from one section to the next. The author displays her phenomenal style through unique diction and phrases. Each character possesses a distinct identity and backstory, providing a wide spectrum of readers to find a character to empathize with. Eagen fills the book with outside information that relates to the time period, like popular songs from each era, to validate the book’s reality. She presents her innovative flair by including a section by Sasha’s daughter, a slide show entitled “Great Rock and Roll Pauses—By Allison Blake” with diagrams and flow charts that depict the Blake family in seventy-four pages. Eagen’s style includes a playful tone supplemented with dark imagery to connect with characters’ emotions throughout time.
This coming of age story grasps the reader’s attention, offering an opportunity for him or her to identify with the different characters throughout their various stages of life. The music world misfits lose friends in one era and attempt to reestablish the broken bonds in another. But it is the music industry that ties the characters together, and in the end, it is the power of music that reconnects the characters not only to each other but also to their individual selves. The characters are living in the past; they dwell on former habits and mindsets, and hope for a better future that will continue to be far away as long as they remain in the past. Each character attempts to find themselves as individuals and to find their place in society.