The theme of ruin and redemption is present throughout Egan’s novel. This theme fits nicely alongside the novel’s other themes, as the characters find themselves crushed by time, by their self-centered and isolating ways of living, and by shifts in American culture. Throughout the novel, each of the major characters finds him- or herself at a low point. Sasha’s story shows her slipping deeper into ruin as the result of her stealing, her isolation from family and friends, and her lack of self-love; Jocelyn becomes addicted to drugs and spends most of her adult life in and out of rehab; and Benny loses his record label and is seen as a failure by those still in the industry. The idea of ruin and redemption is also reflected alongside the characters in the spaces that they inhabit. New York City is an environment that reflects this theme in a particularly poignant way. These characters inhabit a post-9/11 NYC, where the towers have fallen, the rivers are polluted, and in later stories, the city exists in a heightened surveillance state. The same is true in other locations as well. In the story “Goodbye, My Love,” Ted visits the ruins of Pompeii and notes the way in which the city of Naples is degrading. In “Safari,” the killing of the lion reflects humans inflicting ruin on the environment. These images of ruin, as reflected through the consciousness of the characters, mirror the ruin they have experienced in their own lives.
Despite the ruin many of these characters experience in their lives, the novel counterbalances the destruction with redemption. Two of the novel’s main characters, Sasha and Benny, find their way out of the depths of their devastation and rebuild their lives. Benny, after losing his position at Sow’s Ear records, turns back to his pure love of music, reconnects with his old friend Scotty, and goes on to promote a concert that goes down in history. Sasha finds herself by the end of the novel, and settles down with her family, turning her addiction to stealing in a more healthy direction through her found-object art. The picture painted of these characters is not one of perfection—both Benny and Sasha still face challenges in their lives and relationships—but ultimately, they find themselves living lives they can inhabit with some level of peace. For both of these characters, their redemption comes through confronting those things which they ran from as younger individuals and accepting themselves for who they are. In Egan’s novel, redemption is an experience that happens within the individual, and only through self-acceptance and authenticity are these characters able to rebuild their lives.
Ruin and Redemption ThemeTracker
Ruin and Redemption Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad
[Coz] was trying to get Sasha to use that word, which was harder to avoid in the case of a wallet than with a lot of the things she'd lifted over the past year, when her condition (as Coz referred to it) had begun to accelerate: five sets of keys, fourteen pairs of sunglasses, a child's striped scarf…Sasha no longer took anything from stores—their cold, inert goods didn't tempt her. Only from people.
She could tell that [Alex] was in excellent shape, not from going to the gym but from being young enough that his body was still imprinted with whatever sports he'd played in high school and college. Sasha, who was thirty-five, had passed that point. Still, not even Coz knew her real age. The closest anyone had come to guessing it was thirty-one, and most put her in her twenties. She worked out daily and avoided the sun. Her online profiles all listed her as twenty-eight.
Bennie's assistant, Sasha, brought him coffee: cream and two sugars. He shimmied a tiny red enameled box from his pocket, popped the tricky latch, pinched a few gold flakes between his trembling fingers, and released them into his cup. He'd begun this regimen two months ago, after reading in a book on Aztec medicine that gold and coffee together were believed to ensure sexual potency. Bennie's goal was more basic than potency: sex drive, his own having mysteriously expired.
Then the sisters began to sing. Oh, the raw, almost threadbare sound of their voices mixed with the clash of instruments—these sensations met with a faculty deeper in Bennie than judgment or even pleasure; they communed directly with his body…And here was his first erection in months…He seized the cowbell and stick and began whacking at it with zealous blows. He felt the music in his mouth, his ears, his ribs—or was that his own pulse? He was on fire!
"It's incredible," Sasha said, "how there's just nothing there."
Astounded, Bennie turned to her…Sasha was looking downtown, and he followed her eyes to the empty space where the Twin Towers had been.
"There should be something, you know?" she said, not looking at Bennie. "Like an echo. Or an outline."
"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.
[Charlie] takes hold of his hands. As they move together, Rolph feels his self-consciousness miraculously fade, as if he is growing up right there on the dance floor, becoming a boy who dances with girls like his sister. Charlie feels it, too. In fact, this particular memory is one she'll return to again and again, for the rest of her life, long after Rolph has shot himself in the head in their father's house at twenty-eight: her brother as a boy, hair slicked flat, eyes sparkling, shyly learning to dance.
Every night, my mother ticks off another day I've been clean. It's more than a year, my longest yet. "Jocelyn, You've got so much life in front of you," she says. And when I believe her, for a minute, there's a lifting over my eyes. Like walking out of a dark room.
I looked down at the city. Its extravagance felt wasteful, like gushing oil or some other precious thing Bennie was hoarding for himself, using it up so no one else could get any. I thought: If I had a view like this to look down on every day, I would have the energy and inspiration to conquer the world. The trouble is, when you most need such a view, no one gives it to you.
The topic was the presence of Al Qaeda in the New York area. Operatives were present, Bill confided, especially in the outer boroughs, possibly in communication with one another (Stephanie noticed Clay's pale eyebrows suddenly lift, and his head gave a single odd jerk, as if he had water in one ear), but the question was: how strong a link did they have to the mother ship—here Bill laughed—because any kook with a grudge could call himself Al Qaeda, but if he lacked money, training, backup (Clay gave another quick head shake, then flicked his eyes at Bennie, to his right), it made no sense to allocate resources…
"I want interviews, features, you name it," Bosco went on. "Fill up my life with that shit. Let's document every fucking humiliation. This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"
Entering Lulu's bedroom, Dolly felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz: everything was in color. A pink shade encircled the overhead lamp. Pink gauzy fabric hung from the ceiling. Pink winged princesses were stenciled onto the walls: Dolly had learned how to make the stencils in a jailhouse art class and had spent days decorating the room while Lulu was at school. Long strings of pink beads hung from the ceiling. When she was home, Lulu emerged from her room only to eat.
For months she'd done business with Lars, arriving sometimes without having managed to take anything, just needing money. "I thought he was my boyfriend," she said. "But I think I wasn't thinking anymore." She was better now, hadn't stolen anything in two years. "That wasn't me, in Naples," she told you, looking out at the crowded bar. "I don't know who it was. I feel sorry for her."
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!
Ted braced himself for his moody, unpredictable son. "Hiya, Alf!"
"Dad, don't use that voice."
"That fake 'Dad' voice."
"What do you want from me, Alfred? Can we have a conversation?"
"So you're what, five and eight?"
"Four and nine."
"Well. There's time."
"There's no time," said Alfred. "Time is running out." "
On another day more than twenty years after this one, after Sasha had gone to college and settled in New York; after she'd reconnected on Facebook with her college boyfriend and married late (when Beth had nearly given up hope) and had two children, one of whom was slightly autistic…Ted, long divorced—a grandfather—would visit Sasha at home in the California desert…And for an instant he would remember Naples: sitting with Sasha in her tiny room; the jolt of surprise and delight he'd felt when the sun finally dropped into the center of her window and was captured inside her circle of wire.
Now he turned to her, grinning. Her hair and face were aflame with orange light.
"See," Sasha muttered, eyeing the sun. "It's mine."