The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
Had this pretty much all typed off. I think I’ll back off long ‘reviews’ unless a book (like The Circle) provokes me to do so. And while I usually like to pair up books, that means I have to have two ready to go, and I rarely do. So instead I’ll post them one at a time, unless of course I find myself in the position where I have them.
Dave Eggers: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (Hamish Hamilton, 2014, 212 pgs.): For some reason I keep reading Dave Eggers even though I don’t think he’s any good. He’s an idea man, the kind of guy who could sit you down and give you a detailed outline of a story and its subtext that sounds, at a distance, fascinating. In this case, a man at the edge of his wits chains people from his past to posts in an abandoned military base in order to extract truths from them so that he might piece together a shattering world. Hell, I’d read that book. And I did. And it wasn’t very good.
Eggers’s latest is constructed solely of dialogue between Thomas—a relatively young and disturbed young man—and the various victims he brings to the abandoned military base where the sort-of interrogations take place. Basically put, Thomas is pissed about the world and that he has no place in it, at least one that’s not immediately obvious to him. So he drags his ex-TA turned astronaut Kev to the facility, which leads him to bring a vet congressman, and his mother, and an old math teacher, and so on and so on and so on, only to prod them about what’s become of their country. Thomas is outraged at his government’s shortcomings yet yearns for some kind of dictate that will give his life direction. And while most of the dialogue comes through as stifled, stilted, and generally faux-philosophic, the reader can at least understand Thomas’s frustration of being a single person against a gargantuan system.
Really, though, his motive is to find what really happened the night his friend Don had a psychotic episode and was gunned down by police. In interrogating one of the officers who shot Don, Eggers attempts to use Thomas’s voice as a vessel wavering between the righteously indignant and woefully ignorant, a mirror for the common outrage felt among the populace. Problem is, Eggers inadvertently makes Thomas a bigger fool than he intends, and as a result all his queries come off as the befuddled ranting of a madman. Maybe that’s the point Eggers is trying to make in an attempt to subvert the Socratic method, where the man who knows nothing ends up coming to the conclusion he knows most. Either way, some subtlety would be appreciated.