Tuesday, December 19, 2006

getting to know velocity

Some observations upon beginning Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity!, in which two 20-something guys try to give away 30-something-thousand dollars in a one-week trip around a large chunk of the world:

  • This is a ridiculous idea that only two privileged Americans could come up with. Traveling to countries you know nothing about and giving wads of cash to people who seem needy—but not too needy, or annoying, or ungrateful—is naïve at best, reckless and exploitative at worst. Sure, it makes a better story than, “We donated our money to a respected nonprofit organization, and the experts distributed it accordingly,” but it’s hard to get past the insane premise.
  • Boys travel differently from girls. They are spontaneous, they don’t worry about getting raped (though they occasionally worry about getting killed) and they like to climb trees and jump from moving cars.

Some observations upon getting to the middle section, in which the up-till-now secondary character, Hand, begins to narrate, and the book makes something of a 180:

  • Postmodernism. Yawn. Let’s get back to Will’s part. His story was just fine.
  • Oh, okay, I think I get it—Dave Eggers is obsessed with the manipulation of grief. He wants to express it in all its aching humanness, but he’s wary—he knows it’s marketable. He knows fiction cannot do it justice. He knows that fiction is the only way to do it justice.
  • One of the mantras in my writing class is that the first chapter of any novel makes certain promises to the reader, and the job of the rest of the book is to fill those promises. I’m pretty sure Dave broke that rule with this section, or at least way, way bent it. I love him for that, and am irked.
  • That recklessness thing? Maybe they’re reckless, but, as Hand explains, their actions are an outward expression of an inner grace, which is really the only way to live an honest and full life. You can never truly fault someone for acting on their good intentions. What’s the alternative? Act against your intentions? Don’t act at all?

Some observations upon finishing:

  • The book is a bit of a manifesto in favor of action, which seems appropriate given that A) Dave Eggers is a busy guy. He runs a press and a nonprofit. He was popular in high school. He has lots of friends and he does projects with them. He is not the stereotypical reclusive, solitary writer who writes reclusive, solitary characters who quietly observe the chaos of the world. I can’t help but relate to such writers and characters, and yet, I appreciate that Dave is a person who believes in creating the world. He’s doing exactly what people should do when they’re well adjusted and given ample resources. He goes out on a limb, and he jumps from it, spectacularly.
  • And B) Dave Eggers is globally engaged. His current project is What is the What, another fiction-nonfiction hybrid, this time about the Lost Boys of Sudan. AK and I saw him and his co-author, Valentino Achak Deng, speak a couple of weeks ago at the Hammer Museum. The guy who introduced them gushed and gushed, but when Dave came onstage, he just got down to business. There’s a terrible world out there, but it’s also funny and human, and worthy of our best strategies.


ackleykid said...

Baby! You have such fresh insights into one of my favorite books. And, yeah, the gusher annoyed.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for recommending it. Without good book-pushers in my life, I'd be all US Weekly, all the time.

Brett said...

The thing about Eggers (for me) is... the guy can write great sentences, but the more of them I read in a row, the less impressed and interested I become.

What comes after "postmodernism"? 'Cuz I think I'm ready for it.

Cheryl said...

I think Dave Eggers is what comes after postmodernism. He's sort of like, "I know all the tricks, but at the end of the day, it's more about heart."