Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers

This is my sixth book review this week. Please keep in mind, Kittens, that I have been on vacation, and I have had more time to read than usual. That, and I am behind on my reading challenges, so I have been doing my best to play catch-up.

Anyway, this is Dave Eggers' second book, but his first foray in 100 percent pure fiction. If you read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (click here for my review), you know that Eggers has a very quirky, unusual writing style. Needless to say, when I started reading this book, I expected a very quirky, unusual plot.

I did not, however, expect the plot to be very bizarre at times. That what I felt as I was reading it. By the time I got to the end, I understood why I felt this way.

Here's the story: Will and his friend Hand have seven days to travel around the world to give away $32,000. Will came across this money after he got paid for having his silouhette printed on boxes of light bulbs. He figures that he doesn't need all of this money, so he gets an idea to travel around the world, mostly to south Asian and African countries, to give the money away to those in need.

Sounds like a Judd Apatow comedy, no?

Well, it isn't. There's a lot more involved--a lot more.

One of the subplots involves their friend Jack, who was killed when a semi rolled over his car on the highway. Will is having a lot of difficulty coming to terms with his friend's death. As the novel progresses, we learn more about Jack's death through flashbacks. Will believes that he could have used the money to save Jack, money which would have been put towards a meaningful purpose.

Even though Jack's chances for recovery were nonexistent, Will still thought that there was a chance that he could have saved Jack. He wrestles with this guilt throughout the novel, often having conversations with either Jack or Hand inside his head about his unresolved feelings.

Will believes that, by traveling around the world and giving the less fortunate the money, he'd be making a real difference not just in the lives of others, but his own life. He enlisted his childhood friend, Hand, to assist him in this endeavor. Things start to go wrong before they leave Chicago, when their original flight to Greenland is canceled. The duo replans their trip and end up flying to Senegal.

From the time they land in Senegal, things continue to not go according to plan. Over the next six days they have difficulty with law enforcement officers, they have trouble with hotel concierges, random guests at hotels, and most frequently, airport personnel.

Not to mention, neither Will or Hand can figure out exactly who should receive the money, or how to give it away. They concoct plans, for example, to tape envelopes to the sides of donkeys. They stop to ask for directions many times, only to find people who would accept money. They overpay, at one point, for a key chain at a market in Morocco.

As the novel progresses, the reader witnesses the deterioration of Will's mental state. In addition to struggling with Jack's death, he also is dealing with a heart condition and issues related to his father abandoning his family. He questions his motives for giving away the money, and keeps imagining increasingly complex conversations with his loved ones. He is afraid to sleep, afraid to relive, especially, the events leading up to and following Jack's death.

I really admire Eggers' writing style. He uses many metaphors that keep the text engaging. For example, on page 92, he writes:

"I grabbed my knees and rested and rose again and waded in, still reeling, and the hands of the cold calm sea held my calves then seized my knees and wrapped its thick strong fingers around my thighs and its bondy cold arms around my waist."

He also has a way of keeping the reader intrigued, adding so many twists and turns that you don't know exactly where the story is going. There is one car chase scene that is particularly suspenseful. Eggers even makes the airport scenes suspenseful; at many times you wonder if Will and Hand are even going to make it to their next destination, or worse, have enough money to continue the journey.

This is one of those books that seems like a comedy on the surface, but is really a tragic, dark book. It's one of those books that needs to be discussed in a book club. For example, one could debate Will's true motives behind giving away the money. Why were there so many flashbacks to childhood? If you can get a friend to read this book along with you, by all means do so. You'll have plenty to talk about.

This is the latest entry in my 2009 100+ Reading Challenge, as well as my 2009 2nds Challenge. Click the buttons in the sidebar for archived list of past reviews.


Angie said...

I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few years ago, and have always meant to read this book, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I'll have to add it to my to-read list.

Grand Pooba said...

So wait, does this count as D and E?

Jenners said...

Very good review. I've seen this around but the plot as described didn't seem to grab me ... and I've been a little wary of Eggers and fiction. But you have intrigued me. I may have to give it a go...