Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize announced its winners for 2011. I’m always interested in the Letters category, particularly the fiction selection. I had to do a wee bit of research to learn more about this year’s winner.
Fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
The fiction category is awarded to an author who “preferably [deals] with American life.” Egan’s novel — set mostly in New York City — uses the music industry as its context, following a cast of mostly self-destructive characters into the unsettling journey of aging in a newly-digital, changing world. This is familiar ground for Egan, who is known for examining questions of contemporary angst and collective identity crisis in her unconventional works.
I’ve never read anything by Egan, a Chicago native whose most recent novels include Look at Me, and The Keep, but this novel seems like a great place to start (it has already won the National Book Critics Award). Egan’s often-experimental narrative style is put to good use in A Visit From the Goon Squad. The story shifts back and forth in time, and she plays widely with the format, including a section that resembles a PowerPoint presentation.
Egan says the book was partly inspired by Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” “The book is so much about how change is unexpected and always kind of shocking,” she said in the Wall Street Journal. “So there’s no question that winning a prize like this feels unpredictable and unfathomable.”
I will be marking this as a to-read on my Goodreads list. Our collective and individual relationship with change and time is something I have been intrigued with, recently. I wonder if every era feels as dynamic as our own — I wouldn’t be surprised if Victorians felt a similar emotion to myself when I say “everything is changing so fast.” Questions of identity become important amid so much flux. I remember hearing Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donaghue once say that “Stress is a dysfunctional relationship with time.” I’m curious to see how this award-winning novel explores that relationship, as well as the relationship to ourselves and to others amid the flux.