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You Shall Know Our Velocity

Dave Eggers

(McSweeney's Books)

The Heartbreak of Unfulfilled Promise

“Doing easily what others find difficult is talent; doing what is impossible for talent is genius.”
— Henri Frederic Amiel


I have mixed feelings about Dave Eggers. I stay up at night thinking about it. Well, I stayed up one night thinking about it. It’s what happens, I suppose, when you have to write a review of someone whom you’ve previously admired but have sort of had this falling out with. Not literally, mind you. I’ve never met Dave Eggers. Haven’t even gone to one of the infamous readings/signings he did for his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. (You know, the ones where he planted his buddies, etc. in the audience to heckle him or engage in otherwise inappropriate book reading/signing behavior.)


Dave Eggers, to put it simply, is just too cool for me. He’s hip and he’s young and he’s talented and he makes both envy-inducing (on the level of genius, yes) decisions and bone-headed, sophomoric, hey-look-at-me-Ma-No-Hands decisions that make me want to reach through the page or computer screen and strangle the guy. Egger’s newest book You Shall Know Our Velocity (this one actually claiming to be fiction) has all of these elements. It’s both gleefully fun to read and ultimately disappointing. At least, I think. I have long, drawn-out conversations with myself. I toss and turn. It’s ridiculous ... really.


“I hate that Eggers guy.”


“You hate everyone who is talented and published. Get over yourself.”


“No. That’s really not it this time. He’s infuriating. He’s brilliant and he’s lazy. And the magazine. Have you read the magazine? Did you read the one about the industrial kitchen?”


“Again, you’re just pissed because you don’t have the balls to do any of this stuff. You’re pathetic really.”


“But as good as he is, in the long run it all seems phony. An act.”


“All writing is an act. Who are you kidding?”


“I don’t just mean the writing. The antics. The magazine. The self-publishing bit. I mean, the dog on the jacket of `HWSG?’ All the side projects?.”


“Yeah, what a fucking asshole. Starts a school for poor urban youth in San Francisco. Gives them a portal into the creative world. They write. They paint. They have fun. They don’t do drugs. What a jerk.”


“That’s admirable, sure. But I don’t know. I think he does it to get chicks.”


“Who cares? It’s the end result, right?”


“Well, what’s the end result of `YSKOV,’ then smart guy? Huh? What’s with all the praise? ‘? I lived. We lived.’?”


“You’re getting ahead of yourself here. It’s not about the end, it’s about the journey. Two guys. $32,000. A world of travel. The giving away of the money. It’s not about the end. It’s like On The Road.


“I see they’ve gotten to you.”


“Who?”


“The other reviewers. The machine. Please. The only thing this book has in common with On The Road is two guys and a lot of moving around. That and you can read it fast. Otherwise, shut up about Kerouac. There’s no substance here.”


“See, you’re the asshole. There’s plenty of substance. What about the meditations on life? How Will and Hand lost their friend Jack and how it changed Will’s outlook? Or at least challenged that outlook. There’s some pretty heavy shit going on in some of those monologues or inner dialogues or whatever the hell you call them.”


“But everybody has friends die. What makes him so special? And wasn’t death and it’s aftermath the same ground he mined in ‘HWSG?’ Doesn’t he have anything else?”


“There’s more to both books than that and you know it. You’re over simplifying. There’s the stuff about the arbitrary nature of wealth, the dicy proposition that is distributing this wealth to the ‘worthy.’ It’s a pretty interesting look at the global economy and the guilty American’s place in it. I found it enthralling.” “Enthralling? The characters come off as self-indulgent. I weep for their inability to manage this far fetched philanthropic spree. It’s just incessant yapping and whining.”


“But isn’t that part of the point? That they’re stupid Americans?”


“Maybe, but shouldn’t you be able to boil a book down to its essence, one paragraph, and have something beautiful and true?”


“Sure, sure. But how many books really do that? What are you asking for from this guy?”


“I’m asking for genius. Every time out. Plain and simple. That’s all I want from Dave Eggers. Genius. ‘Cause I know the guy has it. You read this books and boom. 50 pages gone in a bat of an eyelash and nothing has changed. Nothing has been revealed. Sure, the play with language and thought is fun and it takes a certain talent. But shit, any hack with a pen can train himself to do that.”


“You can’t.”


“That’s besides the point. What I’m saying is Dave Eggers is one of those talents. One of those people who is capable of writing something on par with Marquez or Kundera. He’s got an ear for language, a way of seeing through the bullshit when he wants to and he doesn’t seem to have (on the same level, anyway) the intellectual hang-ups of a Wallace or a Barth. It’s like watching a pick-up game and seeing the 30-year old guy who should have gone pro, should’ve been the next MJ (or better) but was too worried about his street cred or was too lazy or too afraid of his talent to take advantage of it. You watch the fluidity of this guy’s motion. The unbroken continuity of time and space when he has the ball. The rock is an extension of his being. The rest of us are blades of grass his giant green and blue world. And yet, here is. Still on the playground. Wowing the hanger-ons and already believers. It’s a shame, really.”


“So you don’t like the book?”


“No. The book isn’t bad. If you let yourself go, if you forget about who you’re reading, it’s romp, really. The pages fly by. You get into Will’s head. You feel like you’ve known Hand forever. You empathize, even, with their self-centered problems and doubts. It’s a really well written novel. The end is even uneasily beautiful in it’s own way. In the hands of anyone else, it would be considered one of the best this year, I think.”


“That’s crap. How can you penalize someone because they possess more talent than is on display in this one book? Isn’t the ball player still a site to behold? That isn’t fair.”


“No. What isn’t fair is that this guy has all of this talent and he’s squandering it. Yeah, maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I’m just jealous. I don’t know. But there’s nothing heartbreaking, nothing genius about this book. As predictable as that statement is, it’s true, damn it. And I don’t think it’s unfair to ask Dave Eggers to get off the playground and into Madison Square Gardens. We deserve it. All the writers who want to be him deserve it. Readers deserve it. He deserves it. Now shut up and let me go to sleep.”

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