Tuesday, January 24, 2006

11. "You Shall Know Our Velocity!" ~ Dave Eggers

Eggers first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, dropped him dead center on the literary world map. Finally, a Gen. X-er who can write. Branching into fiction, Eggers proves once again that he is a master.

Velocity introduces Will and his friend, Hands, who decide to travel around the world in a week and distribute $32,000. Throw in a dead friend, Jack, and travel problems, and you have another "heartbreaking work of staggering genius."

What makes Eggers's work so lovely to read is his attention to the details that my generation finds fascinating. Whether it's the ironic take on third world countries (a woman's teeth are extraordinarily white and beautiful, so they want to give her money) or pop culture references (kids emulating World Pro Wrestling), it created a visceral response in me. "Yes, I totally know what he's talking about."

Midway through the book, just as the stakes are being set higher (how will they choose who gets money and who doesn't, and what moral values does this exhibit?), there is a jump to Hands's point of view after-the-fact. For me, this was more like a chasm. It gave away the ending, it made them both seem like horrible characters, it went too far in quirky style. Left out, I would have liked the book more, but Eggers pushes the limits of language and style, and this was his experiment. It didn't work for me.

A great quote that deals with a lot of current events: "...the strange thing about this business is that nonfiction, when written well, is unequivocally more powerful than fiction, because if all details and evocations are equal -- meaning, if the writing brings alive the people and places described with equal skill, then the story that is true will evoke a stronger response in the reader, for the same reasons that we feel stronger about a real person than a fictional person, or a person we've met in person, versus a person we haven't... [it] just has to hit us at a more visceral level... those who prefer fiction to nonfiction prefer game shows to the news."

Eggers took a risk with this book, both in format (photos to represent ideas, a pretend chapter/letter to the book editor) and in prose. He had me at the "tannin-tinted" river.

4.25 out of 5.0 Black Velvets.


Bibliolatrist said...

Hey -

I'm with you here. Loved his first book, but this one lost me at about the half-way point. Love his style, but at time's it's over the top in this book.

I read it awhile ago, so it didn't make it on to my site, but I'd probably have given it 3 out of 5 stars - even the plot bored me at times.

Sophomore slump? Maybe. Here's to hoping his next is better!

Anonymous said...

his name is HAND, not HANDS.