You’ve Got to Be Kidding
Children. You love them or you loathe them. Without children, there would be no adults. Likewise, without adults, there would be no children. So where in this cycle does Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad happen to fall?
Egan focuses on children in a subtle but big way throughout her novel. The relationships that each of her characters has with children is both a tribute to youth, as well as a clear message that children are the most important accomplishment you can have in life.
I have to take a moment to bring our focus to Chapter 8, “Selling the General.” Featuring the character Dolly, this was by far the most out-of-place, yet surprisingly intriguing and disturbing chapter that I have read thus far. This chapter takes us on a strange adventure to some foreign country (which in my mind was somewhere in the Middle East? Maybe South America?) where Dolly is to meet a genocidal (yes, the thing that means killing large numbers of people) general. Her task as this general’s publicist is to make the world see him in the light of humanity and to reshape his image completely. To do this, she decides to take Kitty Johnson, a washed-up actress, with her to meet the general so that she can secretively snap some photos of the general happily interacting with someone who is famously familiar. Did I mention she also agrees to take her 9-year-old daughter, Lulu? Seriously? I mean, I understand the desire for a lucrative opportunity in your career, but a genocidal general? In the same place as your 9-year-old? I want so badly to sympathize with Dolly…but I can’t. I really can’t! No matter how hard I try, I want to grab her face and shake her so that maybe she will realize how insane she really is. But hey, that’s just me.
But let’s get real, there is so much more to do with Lulu in this chapter than just her presence on a seemingly suicidal mission with her mentally unstable mother. Lulu is a symbol of stability. One of the most profound moments for me while reading this chapter was finding out that Lulu was the product of a one night stand and that despite Dolly’s publicity of being pro-choice, she could not go through with scheduling an appointment for an abortion. So wait…you’re telling me that this little girl, who Dolly so desperately wants reciprocated love from after having been imprisoned and absent from a good chunk of her life, was not even wanted at one point? Damn, Egan. That’s deep. Lulu has become that stability for Dolly that she never knew she needed. And is that what Egan is really trying to say here?
We see the relationship between Dolly and Lulu progress throughout the chapter in ways that many of us can identify with. Lulu felt abandoned when Dolly left her with her Minnesotan grandmother while she served hard time, and then refused to let Dolly back into her life fully once she returned. Haven’t we all felt abandoned at one point or another? But this just comes to show how complexes are formed in children, and why it is so important to have children and to be there for them from day one.
When Dolly, Lulu, and Kitty first arrive at their foreign destination, Arc takes them through a town and asks Lulu if he can get her anything from a local food vendor. Lulu requests a star fruit and with delight upon the first bite, she offers it to Dolly, calling her “mom” for the first time in nearly a year. This one instance in this chapter is a defining moment for Dolly and she feels that bringing Lulu on the trip with her was the right decision (which, okay, maybe it was).
When Dolly and Lulu share the same bed that night (pg. 117 in my version of the novel), Dolly tells Lulu, “I’ll always protect you sweetheart…Nothing bad will ever happen to us–you know that, right?” You see how important Lulu is to Dolly and that she would be willing to do anything to protect her. Don’t we all have that list of people that we would do anything for? I don’t have children, but I’d be willing to guess that those who do would put their children at the top of that list. To most parents, a child is the biggest accomplishment of their entire life and they will do anything to protect that accomplishment.
If that wasn’t enough to prove that Dolly finds Lulu to be the most stable and important thing in her life, recall the moment after the traumatic experience of meeting the General when Lulu and Dolly are quickly taken away back to the vehicles that they arrived in and Lulu sobs into her mother’s lap. This is the first moment that you see Lulu actually needing Dolly as a mother rather than a guardian. Again, their relationship has grown stronger and Dolly is protecting the one thing that she can always call her own.
Even at the end of this chapter, when Dolly feels compelled to move herself and Lulu to a place where nobody knows her, she is performing a huge gesture of compassion. She leaves the life that she knows and everything that came along with it, yet she still has her biggest accomplishment, the one thing in her life that will always remain stable: Lulu.