Congratulations are in order for Mr. Dave Eggers. He did something with Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? that I didn’t think was possible. He made me hate a book from its first line. If I am being technical, I hated this book, with its unforgivably pretentious title, from its first dash, of which there were thousands. The first line didn’t help either: “I did it. You’re really here. An astronaut. Jesus.” Over the book’s arc, the protagonist Thomas, a deranged moron adrift in his life’s nothingness, kidnaps an astronaut, a former congressman, a cop and a handful of others to an abandoned military base on the California coast in search of “answers,” arguing he is smarter than his captives can conceive when they inevitably question his intelligence and sanity. Except he isn’t. He’s maddening, sure. Self-important, sure. Smart? No. I mean, look at that first line again. Why the hell would someone say that? It looks stupid on the page. It sounds even dumber when you read it aloud.

Eggers banks his whole book on the premise that Thomas’ quest to learn answers about why young men his age are fucked will reveal deep truths about today’s post-9/11 society in which we have massive wealth inequality, staggering incarceration rates and a burgeoning climate crisis on the horizon. Instead, the author introduces us to an asshole bent on waxing philosophical about American exceptionalism, while committing felonies, in order to shine a light on his own self-imposed darkness. In essence, Eggers chains the reader to the same post Thomas shackles the people he kidnaps. No bueno. (And let’s be honest: This guy could not have kidnapped all these people without something going wrong and him being shot.)

Thomas goes full Aaron Sorkin with his first captive, an astronaut named Kev Paciorek. “We just spent five trillion dollars on useless wars. That could have gone to the moon. Or Mars ….How long has it been since we did any one fucking thing that inspired anyone?” America elected a black president, the astronaut notes, to Thomas’ sharp disapproval. The whole exchange goes nowhere. It’s pretentious, masturbatory nonsense the likes of which Sorkin regularly served on HBO’s The Newsroom. It didn’t have to be this way. Eggers could have elected to intersperse some narration instead of making every single line of this book dialogue.

Prior to his kidnapping spree, Thomas exists in a state of dreaminess like a younger cousin of Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe character. In Eggers’ hands, this dreaminess is a riddle, as the second captive, a disabled Vietnam veteran and former Congressman, learns when he demands to know what led Thomas to become a serial kidnapper. “It’s because nothing happened to me. And I think that’s a waste on your part. You should have found some kind of purpose for me,” Thomas explains to the congressman. At this point, after reading 39 pages, I had 10 words for Eggers: Get the fuck out of here with this silly nonsense.

The book unfolds from there in a manner as implausible as the times characters slip words like diffident, obsequious and triangulating into conversation with one another. I’ll give Eggers credit: The ending is as much of a mess as the rest of the book. Who lives? Who dies? Who cares! Rejoice that it is over. Or better yet, skip this book like America skips the Moon these days. If you don’t you’ll end up congratulating Eggers for all the wrong reasons.

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