A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
(London: Corsair, 2011)

‘You okay?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine. I just get tired of talking.’
‘Ditto,’ Alex said. He felt exhausted.
‘There are so many ways to go wrong,’ Lulu said. ‘All we’ve got are metaphors, and they’re never exactly right. You can’t ever just Say. The. Thing.’


‘Can I just T you?’ Lulu asked.
‘You mean­-‘
‘Now. Can I T you now?’ The question was a formality; she was already working her handset. An instant later, Alex’s own vibrated in his pants pocket […].
U hav sum nAms 4 me? He read on the screen.
hEr thA r, Alex typed […].
They looked up at each other. ‘That was easy’, Alex said.
‘I know,’ Lulu said. She looked almost sleepy with relief. It’s pure—no philosophy, no metaphors, no judgments.’
‘Unt-dat,’ Cara-Ann said. She was pointing at Alex’s handset, which he’d been using, unthinkingly, mere inches from her face.

The closing sections of Egan’s collection of interconnecting short stories, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is set in the near-future. In a world uncannily similar to our own yet also disconcertingly prophetic, babies play with ‘kiddie handsets’ which they can use to download music or orient themselves with; the handsets also featuring ‘GPS systems for babies just learning to walk.’ Alex has been trying to keep his daughter, Cara-Ann, away from these devices but, in this scene, we see him starting to lose the battle [a scene that will be familiar to most parents]. Meanwhile, an awkward work encounter between Alex and Lulu seems to be ameliorated by Lulu’s suggestion that they just text, or ‘T’, rather than talk to each other, despite the fact that they are face-to-face. Here, mobile technology’s seductive promises of greater connectivity are ironised by Egan; as readers, we struggle, perhaps, to decipher these texts at first and, shortly after this moment, Alex will also misread Lulu’s ‘Ts’. With this encounter, Egan suggests that there can be no ‘relief’ from the complexities of human interaction – however economical the technology that we use to scaffold it.

by Ruth Charnock