Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: Where's the friction?

The pace of You Shall Know Our Velocity is the strongest aspect of Dave Eggers’s first novel. Somehow Eggers is able to keep the action electric, even when he describes people waiting in an airport for a plane to having them dream up conversations they have with the dead. There are some honest and raw moments when the two main characters come to terms with one of their mutual friend’s untimely deaths, but in addition to the whirlwind pace this is about all the novel has going for it.

The narrator, Will, and his friend Hand decide to take – in a week’s time – a worldwide trip with the extra thousands of dollars in cash they have in order to a) see the world and b) travel non-stop and c) dole out their money to those who need it. Of course, as with any roadtrip novel, things don’t go exactly as planned and the boys don’t get to see much of the world at all – West Africa and the Baltics end up being their only stops, even though their main desires included Greenland, Mongolia, and Cairo.

What bothered this reader about the narrative were the conceits of a) the travelogue and b) the first-world characters believing that they should be charitable to the second- and third-world ones. I never enjoyed the antics received when Will and Hand made their way into a new country and had to figure out the locals. I wasn’t sure if this was an honest portrait or if the author just needed a way of exploring ‘otherness’.

Because the characters weren’t able to spend days or even hours in a location, there really wasn’t a development in the secondary people to the story. Therefore the Senegalese children or the Russians in the Baltic nations were never fully explored; they just became caricatures that perhaps were supposed to represent their respective nations’ plights.

Removing that issue though, the novel then becomes a story about a relationship of two friends: the strains that have been put on it, how they grow closer, how one actually learns how to fully trust another. If Eggers was looking to represent that, then kudos. Otherwise it’s a bit bothersome.

(And I did enjoy the following quip: When asked why they [the main characters] were in Senegal, they respond: ‘Because it was windy in Greenland.’ In regards to the book, that’s a pretty hysterical refrain.)


Kari said...

Sounds very Y Tu Mama Tambien. Except for that whole charitable aspect.

colin said...

I like Eggers. AHWOSG contains some of the most touching moments put to paper. But sometimes Eggers is too verbose; just when you are compelled to care for his characters he beats you over the head with sympathy.

But I really admire his other projects. I think Valencia and McSweeney's are two of the most intrepid writing projects in the past few years. Kudos to him for creating those avenues for writers (or future writers).