Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Jennifer Egan’s “Goodbye, My Love”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

Jennifer Egan’s “Goodbye, My Love” was published in Zoetrope: All-Story in 2000 and is now part of her every-award-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s a good story, and I’m happy to have learned rather belatedly that this is part of her collection of linked stories, which I plan on picking up when I’m in the States. (In less than two weeks! I am so excited for everything that I’m envisioning my ride home from the airport involving getting a burrito for dinner and visiting both a bookstore and grocery store. I bet that I actually just fall asleep, but if I’m lucky one of the airports I have a layover at will stock Egan’s book.)

Gosh, I am not doing well at writing about the story today, am I? “Goodbye, My Love” is about Ted Hollander, who’s purportedly in Naples in search of his occasionally-missing niece Madeline, but is in fact treating the trip as a sort of dream “working” vacation for an art history professor. Ted does end up finding his niece, by chance. Egan perfectly captures their interactions, which never feel quite natural: the years separating them, Ted’s memories of Madeline as a child, and his mixed feelings about the trip he’s taken, the limp and stories Madeline’s picked up over the years, serve as barriers between them. At one point Madeline takes Ted to a nightclub, where she talks him into a dance:

How long had it been since he’d danced in a nightclub? Fifteen years? More! Hesitantly, Ted began to move, feeling hulking, bearish in his professor’s tweed, moving his feet in some approximation of dance steps until he noticed that Madeline was not moving at all. She stood quite still, watching him. And then she reached for Ted, encircled him with her long arms and clung to him so that he felt her modest bulk, the height and weight of this new Madeline, his grown-up niece who had once been so small, and the irrevocability of that transformation loosed in Ted a jagged sorrow, so his throat seized and a painful tingling fizzed in his nostrils.

I’m not sure what I think of the ending and the way Egan jumps forward in time in what seems to be a gesture at reassuring the reader that Madeline’s life doesn’t turn out the way we, or Ted, fear it might. But it does make me want to read Goon Squad, and see how she fits this story into some larger arc.

Read “Goodbye, My Love” online

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I haven’t read Good Squad yet, either. I have one of her other books, Look at Me, which is also still unread.

Friday, though! Egan is giving the keynote speech at the conference (and will hopefully be doing signings at the reception afterward).

Comment by ohemgillie

I read Look at Me years ago and hated it…but I am pretty sure that I was about 16 and most of what Egan was doing went over my head. If I like Goon Squad I’m going to reread it.

Can’t wait to hear about the conference and Egan’s speech – so exciting!

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

The conference organizers usually put the speeches on YouTube about a week after, so I will definitely be posting it when they do.

Comment by ohemgillie

I need to read Goon Squad myself! I keep hearing that the time structure of the book is very unusual, but that has only made me more curious.

Comment by nymethth

yeah, i’m somewhere between curious about the powerpoint chapter and dreading it, since that sounds so gimmicky to me. i also can’t think of a collection of linked stories i’ve liked and i’m hoping this’ll be the one to change that.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

We’ll all have to compare notes on Goon Squad…except don’t hold your breath for me. I’m not fitting in a ton of reading lately. So then I’ll just read your review. :)

Thanks for posting this story!

Comment by Steph

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