Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our VelocityEggers, Dave. You Shall Know Our Velocity. San Francisco/New York: McSweeney's Publishing, 2002.
OK, I give up. Eggers is just too hip for me. So hip he's unreadable. I mean, I tried, I really tried. He does have skills -- the dialogue is stupid, but it's realistically stupid, since his characters are nearly believable saps, and he has fresh ways of describing scenery, and he knows how to plant narrative hooks like barbs that tear at your flesh. But, despite all the promise of hugely dramatic action, nothing happens! And after I got to page 260, I concluded that probably nothing was going to happen. Nothing I cared about, anyway.
Here's the story, as near as I could follow (in case you need to make conversation about this book but don't want to invest the time to read it -- good idea): Will Chimielewski, the narrator, is soo terribly distraught over the death of his boyhood friend Jack that, when he gets a load of money for no very good reason, he feels compelled to travel to distant countries with his other boyhood friend, Hand, to give it away. Huh? That's a compelling motive? Will can't do anything right, and the obtuse Hand is even worse, and neither has taken the trouble to learn a thing about Senegal, Latvia, or any of the other countries where they stay as briefly as possible, so they (and we the readers) never get to know any of the people they run into, and Will's panic attacks that something terrible is about to happen (like getting dragged around by his penis, or being horribly assaulted some other way) all turn out to be baseless fantasies, because in all this stupid sojourn, nothing happens! Or if it does, it has to be very subtle, because I saw no sign of it even when I skipped to the final pages.
Guess I'm just not hip enough for rarefied pointlessness. I still like stories that go somewhere, where there's some build-up, and the protagonist's and other characters' actions have consequences, instead of just one damned inconsequential thing after another. I know, it's very Aristotelian of me: beginning, middle, and end. But it's a formula that's worked for thousands of years, and there may still be some life in it.
Salon is quoted in a blurb on the back: "Eggers is a wonderful writer, bold and inventive, with the technique of a magic realist." I think that's exactly right. Problem is he doesn't know how to tell a story.