As a literary symbol, water is often connected with the idea of rebirth, renewal, and redemption, but in A Visit From the Goon Squad, this symbol is inverted, instead pointing to destruction, decay, and death. One of the primary images of water in the novel is the East River in New York City. The river is polluted and its banks are lined with trash. For those living in the New York City of the 2020’s, water is something to be feared. In the story “Pure Language,” the reader learns a water wall has been built to combat rising water levels. The most strongly symbolic moment of water in the novel occurs in the story “Out of Body.” At the end of a long night, Drew and Rob decide to swim in the East River. Symbolically, the water represents the polluted lives through which they are navigating, and the fact that Rob drowns during their swim solidifies the connection between water and destruction or death. A similar association appears in the story “You (Plural)”, as Jocelyn, in a moment of anger toward Lou, imagines drowning him into the pool. Water, rain, and steam also appear heavily in the story “Selling the General,” which focuses on the unethical PR moves of a genocidal dictator.
Interestingly, the absence of water is sometimes associated with redemption. Knowing water’s connection with death (particularly in her personal experience), it should come as no surprise that Sasha ends up moving to the desert. The desert, a place defined by its lack of water, becomes the place where she finds stability and some semblance of happiness.
Water Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad
"Women are cunts," his father says. "That's why.”
"They are not—" He can't make himself repeat the word.
"They are," Lou says tightly. "Pretty soon you'll know it for sure."
Rolph turns away from his father. There is nowhere to go, so he jumps into the sea and begins slowly paddling back toward shore. The sun is low, the water choppy and full of shadows. Rolph imagines sharks just under his feet, but he doesn't turn or look back.
As you fail, knowing you're not supposed to panic—panicking will drain your strength—your mind pulls away as it does so easily…You slip through Sasha's open window, floating over the sill lined with artifacts from her travels: a white seashell, a small gold pagoda, a pair of red dice. Her harp in one corner with its small wood stool. She’s asleep in her narrow bed, her burned red hair dark against the sheets. You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha's sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I'm sorry and I believe in you and I'll always be near you, protecting you, and I will never leave you, I'll be curled around your heart for the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!