A Visit from the Goon Squad serves as an in depth exploration of the passage of time, the effects of aging on individual lives, and the longing for the past through memory. The novel’s title even speaks directly to the theme of time. Bosco, the former guitarist of The Conduits, who has become fat, alcoholic, and suicidal, states, “Time’s a goon, right?” Traditionally, a goon was an individual who inflicts fear and violence on others to achieve a desired end. Utilizing the word “goon” illuminates Egan’s understanding of time as an unforgiving force that shapes the novel’s characters in various, and often unpleasant, ways.
The novel’s exploration of time and memory occurs in the overarching structure of the novel, and also within the individual stories. Structurally, the stories move back and forth through time. This movement offers clear depictions of the way in which people, places, and cultures change over time. Likewise, within the individual stories, there are often sudden jumps into the future, which offer immediate and powerful juxtapositions between the present, past, and future. For example, in the story “Safari,” Charlie and Rolph, who are siblings, are depicted dancing in a moment of true connection. During this moment, however, the story jumps suddenly forward, and the reader finds out that at the age of 28 Rolph will commit suicide. The leap forward puts this moment of connection in conversation with the tragedy these characters will experience later in life. This kind of narrative gesture is common throughout the novel.
The merciless effect of time on the lives of the novel’s characters often leaves them searching memory for better times. The novel’s characters are haunted by their mistakes, but also by their past successes. They often turn to memory, longing for a past in which their lives were exciting, their careers were fruitful, and their health was stable. Though not all of the novel’s characters are completely ravaged by the passing of time, all of them must grapple with their powerlessness over it, their inability to stop or slow the passage of their lives, and the changes that come with it. Memory often serves as a respite for these characters, but ultimately, their lives are propelled forward and they have no choice but to go for the ride.
Time and Memory ThemeTracker
Time and Memory Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad
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.
"I'm sorry," Sasha said quickly. "It’s a problem I have."
The woman opened the wallet. Her physical relief at having it back coursed through Sasha in a warm rush, as if their bodies had fused.
“Everything's there, I swear," she said. "I didn't even open it. It's this problem I have, but I'm getting help. I just—please don't tell. I'm hanging on by a thread."
The woman glanced up, her soft brown eyes moving over Sasha's face. What did she see? Sasha wished that she could turn and peer in the mirror again, as if something about herself might at last be revealed—some lost thing. But she didn't turn. She held still and let the woman look. It struck her that the woman was close to her own age—her real age. She probably had children at home.
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.
"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."
[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 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."
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."
Mom makes sculptures in the desert out of trash and our old toys. Eventually her sculptures fall apart, which is “part of the process.”
Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide, by Jules Jones. Mom bought the book, but she never mentions it. It’s about a fat rock star who wants to die onstage, but ends up recovering and owning a dairy farm. There’s a picture of Mom on page 128…Mom’s mouth is smiling, but her eyes are sad. She looks like someone I want to know, or maybe even be.