A Visit from the Goon Squad is unconventional in the way its narrative unfolds. Each chapter stands as a self-contained story, but as a whole, the individual episodes create connections that form a cohesive narrative. The stories, as they appear in the novel, do not follow a traditional chronology. Instead, they leap through time, showing slices of different time periods occurring between the late 1970s and the 2020s. The novel is also split into two parts—A and B—which echoes the two sides of an album. Several characters appear in more than one story, and through the ways in which they appear at different points in time, their narratives become clear.
In the novel’s first story, “Found Objects,” Sasha meets with her therapist, Coz, with whom she is working to overcome an addiction to stealing. She recounts a date she went on with a man named Alex, during which she steals a wallet in the restaurant’s bathroom. After a brief confrontation with the woman Sasha stole from, Sasha returns the wallet and admits she has a problem. Afterward, Sasha and Alex return to her apartment and have sex. Alex then takes a bath and Sasha goes through Alex’s wallet. She finds a piece of paper that says, “I believe in you.” She steals the paper and puts the wallet back before he returns.
The next story is called “The Gold Cure.” This introduces Bennie Salazar, a divorced record executive in his mid-forties, who struggles with anxiety and sexual impotency. He sprinkles gold flakes into his coffee to combat his sexual dysfunction. Benny and his son Christopher meet Sasha, who is now Bennie’s secretary, at the home of one of the bands signed to his record label. The band is not selling albums, but as they play some new music for Bennie, he begins to feel sexually aroused by the music. His arousal, however, suddenly escapes him as a flood of shameful memories strikes him. He runs out of the house. Afterward, Bennie drops Christopher off at his mother’s house, and drives Sasha home. As Bennie drops Sasha off at her building, he tries to tell her about his attraction to her. She stops him, saying, “We need each other.” She then goes home.
In the next story, “Ask Me If I Care,” the narrative leaps back to the year 1979. Rhea, an insecure punk rocker with green hair, tells this story. Rhea feels undesirable and not “punk” enough because of her freckles. Rhea’s friend Jocelyn begins sleeping with Lou, a powerful record executive and much older man. She convinces Lou to come see Bennie Salazar and Scotty Hausman’s band, The Flaming Dildos. At the concert, Jocelyn gives Lou oral sex as the band plays. Lou has his arm around Rhea, and Rhea feels like she is a part of the sexual act in a way that disturbs her. After the concert, the group goes to Lou’s house. Rhea and Lou share a conversation on the balcony in which Rhea scolds him for sleeping with Jocelyn, who is under age. Lou gets a kick out of her belligerence, and tells her never to change. Two weeks later, Jocelyn runs away with Lou. Lou promises to bring Jocelyn home when he returns to San Francisco.
In the next story, “Safari,” Lou, two of his children, and his new girlfriend, Mindy, go on an African safari. They are joined by a cast of other characters, including Chronos, the guitarist of a popular band, and Albert, the tour guide. During the story, Mindy feels tension with Lou’s children, Charlie and Rolph, who miss their mother. Out on the safari, a lion attacks Chronos, but Albert saves him by shooting and killing the lion. Later, Mindy sleeps with Albert. When Lou realizes that something is going on between Mindy and Albert, he tells Rolph that all women are “cunts.” Rolph condemns his father’s reaction, but Lou, a fiercely competitive man, feels a newfound desire to conquer Mindy. Later that night, Rolph and Charlie dance together in the hotel restaurant—a moment of connection they have not experienced yet on the trip. In this moment, the narrative leaps forward, revealing the future. Mindy will marry Lou, and they will have two children together. After they divorce, she will work as a travel agent as she raises their children, and later will go on to continue her Ph.D. Charlie will go on to join a cult in Mexico. Rolph will become estranged from his father and commit suicide at the age of twenty-eight.
The narrative jumps forward a quarter century for the next story, “You (Plural).” Jocelyn narrates, and she and Rhea return to Lou’s house after his health has failed. In the years since the story “Ask Me if I Care” Jocelyn has been in and out of rehab for drug addiction. Rhea has gotten married and had children. They find Lou bedridden and alone. After they catch up for a while, Jocelyn and Rhea push Lou’s bed outside and stand by the poolside. Jocelyn thinks of Lou’s son, Rolph, who was her age, and remembers loving him. Jocelyn asks Lou about Rolph, forgetting that he committed suicide years earlier. Lou begins to weep. Rhea responds empathetically, thinking Jocelyn has said this to spite Lou. Jocelyn is struck with anger, and feels like pushing Lou’s bed into the water. Jocelyn tells Lou he deserves to die. Lou then asks Rhea and Jocelyn to stand on either side of him and hold his hands. They take his hands and stand together, staring into the pool, just like old times.
Scotty Hausman is the narrator of the next chapter, titled “X’s and O’s,” which happens nine years before “The Gold Cure.” Scotty is living a reclusive life in New York City, working as a janitor and spending his free time fishing in the East River. He decides to visit his old friend, Bennie. When he goes, he brings with him a dead bass he caught while fishing. Scotty is stunned by the glamour of Bennie’s office, and notes how his life has gone in a different direction than Bennie’s. As Scotty talks to Bennie, Scotty realizes that they are no longer friends. Bennie asks Scotty about his ex-wife, Alice, who appears in the story “Ask Me if I Care.” Bennie had a crush on Alice, but Alice chose Scotty. Scotty realizes this is a point of insecurity for Bennie. As Scotty leaves, Bennie gives him a business card, and tells him to get in touch if he ever has any new music to show him. Scotty leaves the dead fish. The next day, Scotty gives the card to a young couple, one of whom is a musician.
In the first story of part B, titled “A to B,” the focus is on Bennie’s wife Stephanie before they get divorced. The family moves to a wealthy community outside of New York City, called Crandale. They attempt to fit in, but Bennie is racially profiled because he is Hispanic, and Stephanie feels like an outsider because of her tattoos. Stephanie begins playing tennis with a woman named Kathy. One day, Stephanie goes to the city to meet with the guitarist Bosco, for whom she does PR work. Her brother, Jules, who has just been released from prison, volunteers to go with her. Jules mentions that Stephanie and Bennie seem jumpy, which makes Stephanie worry that Bennie is cheating on her again. When they arrive at Bosco’s apartment, Bosco tells Stephanie that he wants to go on a suicide tour. The former guitarist for the Conduits, Bosco has become fat, alcoholic, and is dying of cancer. He wants to go out with a bang and die on stage. Stephanie thinks the idea is ludicrous, but Jules wants to write a book about the suicide tour. Later that night, Bennie comes home and while he showers, Stephanie finds a gold colored bobby pin on the floor. She realizes it belongs to Kathy, whom Bennie is having an affair with. Stephanie wanders downstairs, and goes out to the garden. She is surprised when Noreen, her reclusive neighbor, whispers to her from behind the fence. They share a brief interaction before Stephanie goes back inside.
The next story in the novel, “Selling the General,” features Dolly Peale. Dolly, formerly known as “La Doll,” was a famous PR expert, but she ruined her name after a light display at one of her parties malfunctioned and burned the famous attendees. She begins doing work trying to save the image a military dictator called The General. She hires Kitty Jackson, an actress with a flagging reputation, and they travel to meet the general so Kitty can appear in a photograph with the dictator. Dolly also brings her daughter, Lulu, in hopes of repairing their relationship. When they meet The General, Dolly takes a photograph of Kitty’s interaction with him, but things take a turn for the worse when Kitty begins asking the General about the genocide. The General’s guards carry Kitty away into captivity. Dolly and Lulu leave immediately. Months later, the General’s country has transitioned to democracy. Kitty is released and begins working on a new movie. Dolly and Lulu move out of the city, and Dolly opens a successful sandwich shop.
The following story, titled “Forty-Minute Lunch: Kitty Jackson Opens Up About Love, Fame, and Nixon!” appears in the novel as a magazine article written by Jules Jones, Stephanie’s brother. The article was written prior to his release from prison, and the style of the article, including rants and footnotes, shows Jules coming unhinged. As he talks with Kitty, he begins to conflate Kitty Jackson with his ex-girlfriend, who left him for a memoirist. Sensing his time with Kitty is almost up, Jules convinces her to go on a walk with him in Central Park. Once in the park, Jules pushes her down and tries to rape her. Kitty sprays him with pepper spray and stabs him in the leg with a Swiss Army knife. Later, Jules is convicted of attempted rape, and sent to prison. Kitty sends him a letter apologizing for whatever role she had in his mental breakdown. Her letter creates a media sensation, and Kitty is pegged as the Marilyn Monroe of her generation.
The next story, “Out of Body,” is told through the voice of Rob, and includes Sasha. This story is set before Sasha begins working for Bennie Salazar, while she is still in college at NYU. Rob has recently attempted suicide and his friends, including Sasha, are worried about him. Rob and Sasha met after she asked him to pose as her fake boyfriend. Sasha believes that her father has detectives watching her, and she wants to appear as if she is dating a nice boy. Rob resents the fact that Sasha seems interested in their mutual friend Drew. Sasha, Drew, and Rob go to a Conduits concert. As the band plays, Rob begins to fantasize about Drew, imagining that seeing Drew naked would give him a sense of relief. After the concert, Sasha goes to a party with Bennie Salazar, whom she has just met. Rob and Drew end up going to the East River together. Rob tells Drew that Sasha was a hooker in Naples. He immediately regrets betraying her. Drew decides to swim in the river. Rob follows Drew into the icy water, but gets caught in a current and drowns.
Next comes the story titled “Good-bye, My Love,” told from the perspective of Sasha’s uncle Ted Hollander. Sasha is in Naples, and her stepfather has flown Ted to Naples to look for her, but Ted, who is an art scholar, takes the opportunity to escape his wife and kids and view famous pieces of art. As he walks the city and views different pieces of art, he remembers Sasha as a child, describing her as lovely and bewitching. When he accidently runs into Sasha on the street, he doesn’t know what to say. They schedule dinner, and meet later that evening. As they eat, Sasha asks Ted about his family and his work. Ted is unhappy, and struggles to connect to his wife and family. Ted lies, telling Sasha he is not there for her. Later they go to a club where Sasha convinces Ted to dance with her. Sasha disappears on the dance floor, and Ted realizes she has stolen his wallet. The next day, Ted finds where Sasha lives, and waits outside her door until she gives him his wallet and lets him in. They watch the sun set, and Ted realizes how alone she is in this foreign country. The narrative then flashes forward, revealing that Sasha will have a family in the future. Ted will visit her, and they will reminisce about their time in Naples.
The story “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” is told in the form of a PowerPoint presentation created by Sasha’s daughter, Alison. It is some time in the 2020s, and Sasha has married Drew and started a family. Alison uses the slides to tell the story of the family’s current situation. Alison’s autistic brother Lincoln is interested in pauses in great rock and roll songs. He struggles to connect with his father, who is a doctor and rarely home. One night, Drew returns home from work in a bad mood. Drew becomes angry with Lincoln, and yells at him. Sasha comes to Lincoln’s defense, but Lincoln runs to his room. Alison and her father go for a walk in the desert. Drew admits that he has trouble connecting with his son. Alison suggests Drew help him make graphs of the rock and roll pauses as a way to find connection. As they return to the house, Alison experiences tremendous anxiety, feeling as if she has traveled into the future, and their home may be gone. She is relieved to find it still there, and goes to bed. The chapter ends with slides of graphs created by Lincoln and Drew.
The final chapter, “Pure Language,” brings the novel full circle by returning to Alex, who appeared as Sasha’s date in the novel’s first story. The year is sometime in the 2020s, and Alex has taken a job with Bennie as a social networking marketer, promoting a performance by Scotty Hausman, who has had a comeback as a musician who plays music for toddlers. Alex is reluctant to tell his wife, Rebecca, about his new job due to the stigma around the kind of marketing he’s doing. Alex works with Lulu, Dolly’s daughter who appeared in “Selling the General.” On the day of the concert, the venue is packed, and Alex feels proud. Before the concert Scotty has a panic attack, and refuses to play. Eventually, Lulu convinces Scotty to get on stage. On stage, Scotty plays his songs for children, but then switches to more personal material. Everyone is wowed, and the concert later becomes historic. As Alex and Bennie walk home after the show, they pass the building where Sasha used to live. They ring the doorbell, but nobody answers. Just as they leave, a woman approaches. For a moment they hope it is Sasha, but it is another woman.