A number of themes are presented in this novel. The most prominent theme relates to the notion that individuals are shaped by personal history in ways that allow that history to continue shaping us long after it has passed.
The "goon" of the novel's title is time, as stated by one of the characters near the middle of the book.
"Time's a goon, right?", referring to the way that time and fate cruelly rob most of the book's characters of their youth, innocence and success.
The central characters in the narrative are engaged in a negotiation with personal history, from Sasha and Bennie to Rob and even the child Alison.
Sasha offers the clearest example of this negotiation as she struggles to overcome a history of compulsive petty theft. She does finally manage to do this and eventual gets married. In her marriage, she continues to recall and to relate to her past as if it has a dynamic and potent life of its own.
With attempted suicide in her past, Sasha is a bit like Bennie, a man haunted by a period of his life that he cannot regain and which seems to act like a poison to him, for reasons that are difficult to surmise. He is visited by his former friend Scotty one day and is unsettled by the meeting. The past, for Bennie, is also alive and potent.
Some lesser themes of the novel deal with ideas of people being drawn to like-minded people, the future being present in seed form in the current moment, and music being a poor shelter for angry, broken-hearted people as well as a dream that can be fulfilled.