A Hologram for the King. Dave Eggers come back, please.

Last Saturday, a small girl woke to something very much like a surprise Christmas day. Within 30 minutes, she was holding an advance copy of the new Dave Eggers novel. Advance because technically it is not released in Australia until next month. But she knows the right places to look and the good folk at Avid Reader had received 5 US imports just the day before. Independent Bookstores 1, internets 0.

This is a quick, neat and tidy read. It is beautiful in the way that Dave Eggers’ writing usually is. It is quirky in terms of place and personalities. But to my mind, there was something missing.

I am overwhelmingly reminded of what I like to call a “midlife crisis plot”. You may have read renditions of it elsewhere Zadie Smith’s White Teeth or On Beauty, Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom or even more recently, Brady Udall’s Lonely Polygamist. It is not an uplifting experience to read the inner workings of a middle-aged man’s regrets. Alan, like all the confused, washed-out types before him is endearing – if you’re into the crumbling at the seams, full of self-recrimnation type? Don’t get me wrong, the above titles rank highly among my favourite books. They are all superbly executed and I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I have to confess, I doubt my own sanity in pursuing the genre from time to time.

I miss the characters of the younger Dave. They were fresh and perhaps a little manic. They had spectacular inner monologues. I loved his earlier stories, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and You Shall Know Our Velocity, for their zany, reckless, convention-breaking spirit, their whimsical insight. What Is The What and Zeitoun were outstanding for wrapping profound social injustice in sweet, seductive, sobering narrative. I have read every short story I could get my hands on. But with this book, on this day, I feel as though I’ve been handed the emperor’s new clothes. We all have to grow up some day. I was hoping Mr Eggers would grow in a different direction.

If you’re reading this, good sir, though I highly doubt my tiny wordpress presence will rate your attention, I need to know that better things happen to the zany, whimsical young people with huge ambitions. Because as far as young people go, you have achieved a great many things. You have published your stories, started a publishing company on the profits, created an entire forum for others like yourself, brought smiles to faces of myriad desk monkeys. You have turned philanthropist and championed many fine causes, literacy and civil rights among them. I know your successes motivate thousands of unpaid interns to get out of bed. I can only imagine what they mean to the individuals and groups you have helped. I need to know that you, who have done so much more than any of us could hope for, see something more in middle-age than solitude, failure and regret.

We are all of us cynical. After all, boundless optimism is far too much to expect from any sensitive human being with a social conscience in this day and age. But surely, when we do achieve, a brief reprieve from our cynicism is warranted? Rest on your laurels a moment, Mr Eggers. Please make us laugh again.†

  • You know the drill, let me know if you disagree.
  • Can you be a literary master without becoming disillusioned or wallowing in the state of the human condition?

†I have never met Dave Eggers. My ultimate dinner party of people living and dead has still not eventuated. After criticising this work on the public internets, I hope Mr Eggers will still honour his standing invitation. I recommend all of his writing – past, present and future.

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5 responses to “A Hologram for the King. Dave Eggers come back, please.

  1. K.— Your beautifully written review has reminded me of some extremely important details about writing and writers and audience.

    Most importantly, your review has reminded me that it is a high wire act to find balance and gravity in the writing of any novel, and that it takes, as someone famous once wrote, the same amount of energy to write a good novel as to write a bad one.

    Also, should you ever find me veering towards my own self-indulgent “midlife crisis plot,” will you please direct me elsewhere?

    And ten extra book-karma points for mentioning Zadie Smith in context. Nicely done! : )

  2. Oh I could very much do with a new Zadie Smith book to read.

    I solemnly swear to redirect you from a midlife crisis plot calamity. The caveat being that I still gravitate towards these books, and will probably get too distracted by the awesomeness of your story to stay on task. But I will try. I like how you have taken my philosophical question and turned it into a personal mission. I had not considered it that way 🙂

    I have observed that my reviews tend to turn into tangential writing somewhat related to the book – I am not keen on detailed plot summaries or technical spec rundowns. Do you think they would be helpful?

  3. Kate, I really hope I can dig around your blog and find where this “ultimate dinner party of people living and dead” is located. It sounds fantastic! I agree very much that laughter was one of the key elements of AHWOSG. I often found myself laughing out loud and snickering at the allusions to ’90s pop culture. This is a great review, and I’m quite impressed you received an advanced copy of Eggers’ book. Congrats!

    As a male the mid-life crisis story tends to resonate a bit more with me, but I can see why it is a genre one would grow weary of–and try to avoid, or branch away from, for that matter. I was trying to figure out why Zadie Smith features this plot so often, but it always seems as though the crisis is an observation had by a richer character within the novel; and that character is decidedly female.

    Again, great review. And thanks for the likes & comments! Now, I’m going to hunt around for that list….

    • Hey there! Thanks for visiting and commenting, glad you liked the review. I WISH I was cool enough to receive advance copies of Dave Eggers books, but sadly I’m not… I just have a little inside knowledge on international copyright law and where I need to look for them in Australia on the day they are released in the US. Still, a girl can dream.

      As for the ultimate dinner party of people living and dead, I’ve never written a post about it, it’s one of those conversation starters I was asked a long time ago and it lives on in my head as a seating plan that I sometimes shuffle around. I should write a post about it though!

      Thanks for visiting and commenting 🙂

  4. Pingback: How To Be Good. Idealists, Realists and Fistycuffs. | Old, new or true·

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