When I was in my early twenties and an idealistic, dreamy romantic, I read Jennifer Egan’s novel The Invisible Circus and loved it. I’d been meaning to get around to Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad; it won the Pulitzer in 2011. A friend of mine, someone who had a miracle baby at 40, highly recommended it.
I finally read it this month (spoilers ahead). The plot follows a variety of characters and goes backward and forward in time, but a couple of main characters hold the story together. One of them, a former teen runaway, begins the novel as a single, childless kleptomaniac. She is in her late thirties as the story opens and on a superficial date with a younger guy from an online dating site. By the book’s end, she has found redemption through late-life marriage and children.
A number of other characters also have their most redeeming moments with their kids, and one of the primary methods the novel marks the passing of time is through marriages, divorces, and children. There is only one childless older woman included in the narrative, Jocelyn, and she appears fairly early on before disappearing. This is one of the last moments we see her, p. 86-87:
I’m forty-three and so is Rhea, married with three children in Seattle. I can’t get over that: three. I’m back at my mother’s again, trying to finish my B.A. at UCLA extension after some long, confusing detours. “Your desultory twenties,” my mother calls my lost time, trying to make it sound reasonable and fun, but it started before I was twenty and lasted much longer. I’m praying it’s over. Some mornings, the sun looks wrong outside my window. I sit at the kitchen table shaking salt into the hairs on my arm, and a feeling shoves up in me: It’s finished. Everything went past, without me. Those days I know not to close my eyes for too long, or the fun will really start.
…I can’t help it, I start to cry. Rhea puts her arms around me.
“You have three children,” I sob into her hair.
“What do I have?”
…”It was all for no reason,” I say.
“That’s never true,” Rhea says. “You just haven’t found the reason yet.”
Unlike many of the other characters, we never find out what happens to Jocelyn. I wonder if Egan, herself married with children, couldn’t imagine what would come next in her life.