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.