A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan's novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a clutch of other awards this year. It is at once a sharp social commentary, a showcase for the author's virtuosity, and a constellation of stories so good they invite fast, compulsive reading but also reward more careful attention. It is also a book with particular relevance for Christian theology and ethics.

The language of outsider authenticity has done much to orient Christian reflection in recent decades. There have been calls from many angles for some kind of Christian counterculture. Calls to let the church be the church, to keep it real and to resist empire have different content and suggest different courses of action. But they also share a vocabulary that emphasizes the need to carve out an identity against some overwhelming mainstream or another—capitalist, liberal, racist, consumerist, imperial, bourgeois, secular, denominational. In pointing out the pervasiveness of this vocabulary I don't mean to lump all these movements together. The differences between them matter very much. I also don't mean to caricature these movements in order to cast them aside. I count them as some of the most important directions of thought in our time. I only mean to argue that the shared vocabulary of outsider authenticity demands more critical attention. Egan gives readers just that.

The novel assembles a series of stories about people involved in social scenes where the rhetoric of authentic counterculture and sold-out mainstream has burned with special intensity: punk rock and public relations. If these scenes seem miles apart by the measure of authenticity, most of the characters in the novel find themselves moving between them. One of the most vividly drawn characters, Sasha, leaves home to travel with a band, turns tricks and robs tourists to get by in Naples, gets back on her feet at NYU, endures the death of her best friend, goes to work for a record label, finds her old habit of stealing coming back, marries a man with whom she shares a tragedy and, at the end, assembles found bits of life into sculptures—and a family—that she knows will not last forever but loves all the more fiercely for that.