Week 2 reading response: Jennifer Egan

On the still-unconfirmed hope that we will have some time with Jennifer Egan next week, please phrase this week’s reading response in the form of at least three questions for her. Please make two of these specific to Goon Squad, and please make one about something altogether different. Jenny is at work on a novel set in the 1940s, so perhaps a question about historical fiction, or the utility of current events in making fictional worlds come to life, or maybe something about her process and career. Jenny knows we’re looking at problems of point of view and free-indirect techniques, so maybe a general question about how she approaches these, possibly citing Wood or Prose. Or maybe let her take a swing at something we’ve wrestled with in class, like Rabbit & BLBC’s rough treatment of Others.

In addition, I want to welcome you to a new feature of LT212: the Copy Desk. Here we will look at and all benefit from matters of grammar, syntax, spelling and other writing mechanics that have come up in the assignments and blog responses.

In a comment below, separate from the Egan questions, please tackle one long or two short items of the following that your colleagues haven’t yet addressed. Begin your comment with the full quoted text including the number, follow with a copyedited revision, and follow that with the rule governing the correction. For example:

14.
Mc Inerny’s
McInnerney’s
John McInerey’s
WEEK 1 READING RESPONSE: MCINERNY, WOOD, UPDIKE

CORRECTED
McInerney’s
McInerney’s
John McInerney’s
WEEK 1 READING RESPONSE: MCINERNEY, WOOD, UPDIKE

RULE
Always spell the name of the author correctly.

***Note that not every example included below is an error. In some groupings, a correct usage is included along with the errors.***

COPY DESK FOR WEEK 1

  1. Alright, she would find a seat and wait for introductions later.
  2. It had the number nine (her favorite number) twice in secession…
  3. The year was 1993 — a fact which in later years would bring here immense satisfaction…
  4. But as the novel develops the efficacy of this armour declines, and in response to this
  5. There was talk of a guardian angel among her kindergarten teachers.
  6. she said to one doctor after another “she’s just hasty. We can’t keep up with her. She doesn’t think”.
  7. She often imagined his favorite hiding pace would be the laundry hamper as it comes with a soft layer of protection.
  8. He was far tamer then she, not daring to say anything more outrageous then ‘bullocks’ in the presence of his parents.
  9. – As a child she was hopelessly reckless; always regretting her choices thirty seconds after her feet left solid ground, and thirty seconds before her face landed on it.
    – Her smile in those days was like a cherry flavored gummy warm; overly sweet and clearly artificial
    – The insinuation to the reader is clear: just as when Rabbit parks and feels the state babying him, so do (or should) all people in America.
    – His ‘You’ situates ‘Us’ at the side of repugnance, lust, fears of loneliness, and nausea; later, it will also situate us alongside his sadness and his lost-at-sea uncertainty and despair.
  10. They talked about the most irrelevant things in the hallway of the hospital.
  11. She didn’t care if someone would attack her at three o’clock in the morning when she was walking alone.
  12. That stranger, a drug-dealer who doesn’t care about anything saw that she needed help different from the numb release provided by drugs.
  13. – As you read a book written in second person narration the character and the imagery is projected in to your brain.
    – These moments of depression can also often serve as examples of free indirect narration because they are unguarded and uncensored moments where the characters are, in many ways speaking only to themselves.
    – His drug-fueled escapades are followed wearily by us, the readers, who want nothing more than to slap some sense into him.
    – It makes the reader identify with Rabbit’s experiences, ones which are so relatable that the reader is likely to miss the fact that the narration shifts from third to second person. I’m conflicted as to what relation the second person has, if at all, to free indirect narrative in Bright Lights, Big City.
    – I feel somehow always particularly close to the use 2nd person in novels and short stories.
    (***NB: Samples in #13 feature one point of grammar in common, but also distinct problems you should address.)
  14. Mc Inerny’s
    McInnerney’s
    John McInerey’s
    WEEK 1 READING RESPONSE: MCINERNY, WOOD, UPDIKE
  15. – It’s central theme is alienation.
    – It’s occasional uses, while immersing us within the story…
    – quite the opposite of its expected result
  16. behaviour
    armour
    generalised
    internalised
  17. – the author’s 2nd-person narration
    – the free-indirect narrative style we studied this week
    – Rabbit at rest (Updike) starts with third person narration.
    – The second person voice is also a great supplement to free-indirect narration, for while free-indirect narration helps us get really close inside the narrators’ mind, the second person voice cements this intimacy with a general appeal to the reader’s own experience.
    – BLBC needs the second-person narration. It needs it to sweep the reader off its feet by being direct and quick.
    (***multiple issues)
  18. – I was filled with annoyance for the book I would have to read…
    – Perceptions are sharpened in the readers mind through such an appeal

 

Week 2 reading response: Jennifer Egan

21 thoughts on “Week 2 reading response: Jennifer Egan

  1. Alona says:

    Question 1: in “A Visit from the Goon Squad” there are a lot of time jumps, and very fast shifts between characters at perspectives. There are also characters that may appear briefly at a certain point then reappear in a completely different context (Alex). Was it a conscious choice to write the book this way? How did if affect the practical aspect of writing the book (no creating any plot holes)? Did it affect your writing style?
    Question 2: a lot of the characters in the book struggle with mental issues: alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and kleptomania. Music seems to be a very strong coping mechanism for them. Is that a commentary from you to the reader about mental health issues? Is it a commentary on our attitude towards mental health in general?
    Question 3: you write from the perspective of both male and female characters. How is your process different for each gender? Do you feel the gender of the character affect your style? Which gender do you prefer writing?

    12. That stranger, a drug-dealer who doesn’t care about anything saw that she needed help different from the numb release provided by drugs.
    CORRECTED
    That stranger, a drug-dealer who doesn’t care about anything, saw that she needed help different from the numb release provided by drugs.
    RULE
    Use commas to set off nonessential words, clauses, and phrases.
    http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp

    16. Behavior /behaviour
    Armour / armor
    Generalized / generalised
    Internalized / internalize
    RULE
    Pay attention to the spelling differences between American and British English. Make sure that you use one style consistently in your writing.

    Like

  2. Ronni says:

    Question 1:
    While many characters are recurring and could be said to be the ‘main characters’ of A Visit From The Goon Squad, the book is unique in that its chapters illuminate very different stories in time through changing perspectives. How was is for you, the author, to create so many different personas and to maintain closeness to them while refraining from placing them directly in the center of attention? Was there a certain character that you wished you could have written through more? How did you reconcile the desire to create an intertwining series of narratives with the desire to let your characters’ stories be told fully from beginning to end?

    Question 2:
    Did you write all of the chapters of A Visit From The Goon Squad separately and then set their order, or did you know what order they would be in while you were writing them? Are there any chapters and any other characters that didn’t make the final cut?

    Question 3:
    When you start writing a story, do you try writing it out through different narratives and then settle for the one which works best? Or do you have a clear idea how you’d like to tell it when you start out?

    Like

  3. Ronni says:

    COPY DESK

    15.
    – It’s central theme is alienation.
    – It’s occasional uses, while immersing us within the story…
    – quite the opposite of its expected result
    CORRECTED
    – Its central theme is alienation.
    – Its occasional uses, while immersing us within the story…
    – quite the opposite of its expected result

    RULE
    ‘It’s’ is a contraction of ‘it is’. ‘Its’ is either a possessive pronoun or a possessive adjective. Just like the words ‘his’ and ‘hers’ don’t need an apostrophe, neither does ‘its’.

    8.
    He was far tamer then she, not daring to say anything more outrageous then ‘bullocks’ in the presence of his parents.

    CORRECTED
    He was far tamer then she, not daring to say anything more outrageous then ‘bollocks’ in the presence of his parents.

    RULE:
    Spell colloquial slang correctly so that people can identify it as such.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bullock

    Like

      1. Ronni says:

        * then/than

        RULE
        ‘Then’ is used to situate actions in time. ‘Than’ is used for comparison.

        CORRECTED
        He was far tamer than she, not daring to say anything more outrageous than ‘bollocks’ in the presence of his parents.

        Like

  4. Lola Jalbert says:

    1. Ms. Egan, your novel A Visit from the Goon Squad shifts quickly from perspective to perspective gracefully. How did you manage these transitions from one character’s head to the next without confusing the reader? How do you intertwine such complex plots without confusing the reader? Do you plan to use this same technique in the future?
    2. Our class is currently dealing with the concept of free indirect narration, which your writing has been known to successfully accomplish. In fact, this type of narration seems essential to the comprehension of the story, signalling to the reader when the perspective shifts to yet another character. What techniques do you utilise for this style? How do you get into the head of your characters? James Wood, the author of the book How Fiction Works recommends interjecting words that sound unconnected to the narrator, especially using colloquial phrases or questions that the character seems to be asking themselves. Would you recommend this as well?
    3. All good writers experience Writer’s Block from time to time. This is a very expected question, but how have you overcome yours in the past?

    Like

  5. Lola Jalbert says:

    COPY DESK

    16. behaviour
    armour
    generalised
    internalised

    CORRECTED
    behavior
    armor
    generalized
    internalized

    I believe that the first set of words are the British spellings for the words. The corrected are the American spelling. But why isn’t it okay to spell words the British way? We should talk about this!

    Like

  6. Loulou says:

    1. Near the end of the book the content changes from written text to a sort of ‘graphic novel’ (the slides). What was the inspiration for this? and why do you think this had to be in the novel?
    2. Each begin of a new chapter leaves us wondering which person we’ll be following in the new chapter. Why did you choose to have so many characters? And was it hard to connect them all to each other?
    3. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, the story hops back and forth in time. Is this something you are also considering for your next novel? Or will it be more chronological?

    Like

  7. Loulou says:

    2. It had the number nine (her favorite number) twice in secession…

    CORRECTED

    2 It had the number nine (her favorite number) twice in succesion.

    RULE

    Look up words if you’re not sure how to spell them correctly.

    8. He was far tamer then she, not daring to say anything more outrageous then ‘bullocks’ in the presence of his parents.

    CORRECTED

    8. He was far tamer than she, not daring to say anything more outrageous than ‘bullocks’ in the presence of his parents.

    RULE

    Know the differences between than/then, their/there/there’s etc.

    Like

  8. Wilma says:

    COPY DESK

    2. It had the number nine (her favorite number) twice in secession…
    CORRECTED: It had the number nine (her favorite number) twice in succession…
    RULE: This was a misspelling.
    3. The year was 1993 — a fact which in later years would bring here immense satisfaction…
    CORRECTED: The year was 1993 — a fact which in later years would bring her immense satisfaction…
    RULE: This too was a misspelling.

    Like

  9. Acacia says:

    (One) How can you contain these stories within single chapters? Do you ever find yourself wanting to give a character you’ve worked on more pages, just a little more time to exist? Are there a few stories you felt you could turn into a larger body of work, or do you prefer working with this glimpses into the characters lives?

    (Two) Are you a thief when it comes to inspiration? To jump from story to story, creating all these backgrounds and scenarios, how much is stolen from people you know and stories you’ve heard? When it comes to new events, what’s your process like for doing research? This also goes for the various jobs of your characters.

    (Three) What was it like to write about a character like Sasha? How did you formulate her background, i.e.: Was the plan to portray Kleptomania, or just to explore a person with strange feelings for objects. I’ve found it can be very difficult to write about people who have an altered sense of reality because so often people will think you’re speaking for a specific disorder. Was this your intention?

    3. The year was 1993, a fact that would bring her immense satisfaction in later years.

    RULE: Recheck spellings (“here” was accidentally used for “her”), That vs. Which (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/which-versus-that-0), and “in later years” doesn’t seem like you wanted it to be an appositive, so it fits better at the end of the sentence.

    7. She often imagined his favorite hiding place would be the laundry hamper as it came with a soft layer of protection.

    RULE: Recheck spellings (“pace” was accidentally used for “place”), and be consistent with verb tenses (“came” instead of “come”).

    Like

  10. Question 1: I thought the Chapter 12 of your book was a very interesting stylistic choice.Was it supposed to get us closer to Alison’s character and her view of the family or possibly make a comment about the change of Sasha’s and Drew’s characters?
    Question 2: “He paused at the picture of Rob, Sasha’s friend who drowned in college, but made no comment.” In the beginning, I didn’t give much importance to this particular sentence in the first chapter of your book. However, soon enough I have realized that a big part of the story was reveled within the first few pages. Yet, I felt compelled to know how, when and why did Rob drown. I was wondering if you could tell us something more about this style of writing that deepens the interest of the reader even though it is revealing?
    Question 3: How do you feel about using the direct and the free indirect speech for your characters? Would you give more importance to one over the other when it comes to introducing the characters to the reader?

    Like

  11. 8.He was far tamer then she, not daring to say anything more outrageous than ´bullocks´ in the presence of his parents.

    CORRECTED
    8. He was far tamer than her, not daring to say anzthing more outrageous than ´bullocks´ in the presence of his parents.

    RULE
    Use then to show sequence, what happens next. Other meanings include “at that time” and “as a necessary consequence”
    Use than to compare things.

    6. she said to one doctor after another “she’s just hasty. We can’t keep up with her. She doesn’t think.”

    CORRECTED
    6. She told one doctor after another, ´She’s just hasty. We can’t keep up with her. She doesn’t think.´

    Like

  12. Questions:

    Question:
    In ‚Visit to the Goon Squad‘ you manage to write believable characters, humans portrayed with all their foibles and attractions and petty narcissisms. When you ‚get inside the head‘ of these characters, how do you avoid letting your judgement or moral worldview influence your portrayal?
    (relevant for all stories but I’m thinking of The Gold Cure)

    Question:
    After you have a character formed in your mind – say, the idea of Bennie, or of Sasha – how do you develop their backstory? are you inspired by real people, by historical characters, or is creating character less of a conscious act, do you just ‚let the voices speak‘ and see what develops? Would you agree with what Ray Carver said: A little fact and a lot of fiction is what makes a good story?
    (here I’m thinking of music industry in America, the real bands used, the clearly realistic descriptions of the Bay Area)

    Question:
    A piece of writing that is 60% finished lies before you. Some parts just don’t seem to fit or are incomplete. How do you bring it to conclusion, and when do you know it’s done?

    Like

  13. Wilma says:

    QUESTIONS

    1. Throughout the chapters of the book, certain symbols, names, places and objects are repeated and can be found time and time again. Why did you make the choice for this? I’m also especially curious why and how you chose these particulars as themes.

    2. This book is a collection of small works that are interconnected, but was it created as such? Or where there perhaps several separate works and you made to conglomerate? Essentially, I want to know where your expectation of the work was much different from the result; and if yes, how so?

    3. In general, I would just like to know what Jennifer Egan’s writing process is like. Following my previous question, I would be interested to hear which steps were taken in order to create the work.

    Like

  14. Paul, I definitely didn’t get everything, but I tried!

    Correction:

    Plural and comma use:

    13. As you read a book written in second person narration, ( ) the character and the imagery are (is) projected into (in to) your brain.

    comma use:
    These moments of depression can also often serve as examples of free indirect narration, because they are unguarded and uncensored moments where the characters are, in many ways, speaking only to themselves.
    (I would also suggest to this writer to break this sentence up by playing a full stop after ‘narration’ as it is too long).

    – His drug-fueled escapades are followed wearily by us, the readers, who want nothing more than to slap some sense into him.
    (unsure of the exact problem here so I have re-written the sentence).
    After wearily following his drug-fueled escapades we, as readers, will want nothing more than to slap some sense into him.

    – It makes the reader identify with Rabbit’s experiences, ones which are so relatable that the reader is likely to miss the fact that the narration shifts from third to second person. I’m conflicted as to what relation the second person has, if at all, to free indirect narrative in Bright Lights, Big City.

    Correction:

    It (presumably free indirect narration) makes the reader identify with Rabbit’s experiences, which are so relatable that the reader is likely to miss the fact that the narration shifts from third to second person. I’m conflicted as to what relation, if any, the second person has to free indirect narrative in Bright Lights, Big City.

    – I feel somehow always particularly close to the use 2nd person in novels and short stories.

    Correction:

    Somehow, I always feel particularly close to the use of the second person in novels and short stories

    Like

  15. Joel says:

    Hi Paul, sorry for the delay on the post but I had to get through the book from the beginning to end. I just had to. Amazing.

    1. When Ted travels to Naples in search for Sasha, his missing niece, there seems to be quite a strong emphasis on Orpheus and Eurydice throughout the chapter. How can we read this analogy with regards to Ted and Sasha’s relationship? And if its not stretching it too far, who is saving who?

    2. You open with a fascinating quote from Proust, the poet of memory. And since time (and memory) seem to be at the core of this novel, I’m wondering how much did you dig in to your memory when laying out the characters and events? Was any of them specifically hard to write?

    3. Under which genre would you personally classify this novel?

    [Given the lateness I thought maybe posing an extra one]

    4. Which authors influenced, not your style, but the themes you explore in your novels? Would Milan Kundera be one of them?

    Like

  16. Joel says:

    Copy Desk:

    4. But as the novel develops the efficacy of this armour declines, and in response to this
    CORRECT:
    4. But as the novel develops, the efficacy of this armour declines, and in response to this

    5. There was talk of a guardian angel among her kindergarten teachers.
    CORRECT:
    5. There where talks of a guardian angel among her kindergarten teachers.

    Like

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