Author: Dave Eggers
Published: June 2012 by McSweeney’s, 328 pages
Date Read: March 2013
First Lines: ”Alan Clay woke up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was May 30, 2010. He had spent two days on planes to get there.”
Genre/Rating: Literary fiction; 3.75/5 bottles of moonshine, drunk alone in furtive gulps long after midnight, that make you think performing surgery on yourself is a very good idea
Review: I met Dave Eggers once.
It is true! He gave a reading at one of our local colleges, and after the reading, he did a book signing. He was very polite and very kind, even though he was there forever signing books and the line was very long. He wrote something like “your beautiful smile lit up the room” in my friend’s book, and that made her so happy she beamed like the sun. I loved that about him.
I know a lot of people think Dave Eggers is a hipster god. I think he’s fine. I like him just fine, but I like a lot of authors. I think he does a lot of good work and I like McSweeney’s a great deal and know he founded it. He works a lot with disadvantaged youth. He seems like a good guy. I think I’ve only read one of his books – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – and have had The Wild Things on my to-read shelf for ages, but haven’t read it yet. I like him just fine.
Not surprisingly, I liked this book…just fine. A tiny little bit more than just fine, I guess. Just a bit under liked-it-a-lot.
Alan Clay is a consultant for an IT firm. He’s had a string of failures – his marriage, his various businesses, his relationship with his father. He thinks he’s dying of cancer. He can’t afford to pay his daughter’s tuition for her next year of college. He arrives in Saudi Arabia with his young, dynamic team of fellow consultants to present technology to the king. If this works, he will have enough money to do what he wants, send his daughter to college, take his house off the market. But in Saudi Arabia, things don’t run as Alan plans. The timeline seems to be much slower than he expects. There is no sense of urgency. Everyone is waiting for the king – but the king, much like Godot, never seems to arrive. And Alan seems to be looking at yet another failure in a long line of failures.
As a rule, I like books like this – a man pushed to the limit, at the end of his rope, a man who has to make a change or end up a casualty of life. I like them because I like to see what actions the character takes to get themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. I like to see the activity. What I didn’t like about this is there was very little activity. Which is, I suppose, more realistic – life, at times, seems to be all about inactivity – but I don’t know that I want to read about inactivity.
Alan didn’t do much. He was given opportunities to grab life by the balls and didn’t even make a snatch at it. He just let things pass him by. He seemed beaten, weary, depressed, down. And I know, this is realism. I know that. But I wanted him to fight. I wanted him to say, no, not today, I’m going to win this. And every time I thought he might – nope. Same old nothing.
That being said, the writing was beautiful. Eggers’ prose is haunting and spare and evocative. I love his words. I liked the characters, and I did appreciate the realism (even if I was wishing for a little more optimism in there.) I liked reading about Saudi Arabia – I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything about that area before.
Overall, not a book I’d unequivocably recommend, but not a book I’d steer people away from, either. It was good read, a solid one, and not a waste of time. And Dave Eggers, thank you for being so kind at the book signing. I will always remember that. We waited a very long time in line and you could have been an asshat, but you totally grinned like we were the only ones in the room.