Jennifer Egan on her award-winning novel, its TV adaptation, and her next book
Fresh off winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Goon Squad, a wildly inventive novel of intertwining stories, Jennifer Egan isn’t resting on her laurels. ”It’s always kind of daunting to write a book,” she says. ”I never feel that confident, and I actually think I would like to stay that way.”
Egan takes a leap of faith each time she starts a new novel, scrawling away on yellow legal pads and figuring out the story as she goes. She stumbled upon the idea for Goon Squad on Christmas Eve of 2005, when she happened upon a stranger’s unattended wallet in the ladies’ room at a hotel. ”I thought, ‘Who would take the wallet, and why?”’ recalls Egan. So, a few days later while putting off work on a different book, she wrote a story about a woman who steals a wallet from a hotel bathroom. A peripheral character from that tale — a record producer who sprinkles gold flakes in his coffee — caught her eye, and she wrote a story about him. A sense of ”lateral curiosity” led her to continue exploring characters she’d only glimpsed in her earlier work. With its loosely connected vignettes and a chapter written entirely in PowerPoint, Goon Squad is a narrative departure from her past novels, including 2006’s The Keep and her first novel, The Invisible Circus (1995), which was adapted into a film starring Cameron Diaz. ”I like to work against what I’ve just done,” says Egan.
Just after the Pulitzer win, HBO announced that it had optioned Goon Squad for a series, which is fitting since HBO’s The Sopranos was one of Egan’s inspirations. ”The Sopranos‘ story would take detours, and I was interested in trying to write a novel that was built in the same way,” says Egan. While she’ll serve as a consultant on the show, she leaves the adaptation completely in the producers’ hands. ”In order for [the series] to be successful, their vision will have to be different from mine,” she says. ”They will have to be bold, and I’ve given them my permission to do that.”
Looking forward, Egan isn’t entirely sure what other offers will come her way on the heels of the Pulitzer — she has yet to read the hundreds of emails crowding her inbox — or the effect the win will have on her future writing. She’s ready to continue work on the book she put off to write Goon Squad — a historical novel about the women who built ships at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. ”What I need to do now is reimmerse myself in my piles of research,” she says, ”and then sit down with my Uni-ball pen and a legal pad and see what happens.”
A Look at the Other Pulitzer Winners
General Nonfiction: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Mukherjee nabbed the top nonfiction honor for his brilliant history of cancer. ”For a long time in my family we’ve had this Christmas tradition where I give one of my in-laws all of the Booker winners and the other all of the Pulitzer winners,” says the author, a cancer physician who has returned to work in his lab at Columbia University Medical Center. ”So this year I can boost my own sales.” Aside from his research, Mukherjee’s next project is sitting down to read the rest of his fellow Pulitzer winners. He’s already finished Egan’s novel and is in the middle of Kay Ryan’s poetry collection.
Also of Note:
Biography: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Drama: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris
History: The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner
Poetry: The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan