Fiction & Biography

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When Dave Eggers published his mercurial debut in 1999. he seemed set for literary infamy and riches beyond all compare. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was both a moving and hilarious autobiography; indeed the introduction alone may well have been the funniest series of passages written by an American writer since the nonsensical early 70$ scribblings of Woody Allen.

So. with his first straight novel (a promising title which totally fails to deliver) Eggers has gone from achieving a mould-breaking memoir to knocking up a dreary road movie in which the little that does happen is so uninspired as to be staggering in its futility. The only innovations afoot are the odd drawings on a page (actually not much of an innovation these days), the fact that the book has a churchy feel to it and the front cover doubling up as the opening page. Radical. huh?

Our narrator Will (ugly to look at but marginally good in his heart despite a fervour for Churchill) and his paranoid sidekick Hand take off for the adventure of a lifetime trying to cross time zones in as short a space of time as they can afford. On the way they meet a predictably motley bunch of misfits and oddballs and narrowly escape serious harm on several occasions.

There is no doubting that Eggers is of keen mind and sharp pen but it seems odd that he should have chosen such a feeble arena for his talents. And the comparisons to James Joyce and Saul Bellow must have been fed through someone‘s snickering hand. Perhaps the state of his America since the century‘s turn has blunted Eggers’ vibrancy or maybe the acclaim he has received worldwide has dulled the ingenuity which led him to launch the cult literary journal McSweeney’s. There‘s even a certain suspicious

Surprisingly not as clever as we thought he was

conservatism at play which comes as a major surprise. as he denounces the cult of adventuring (though others have read this as some kind of tepid assault on US foreign policy): “To travel is selfish; that money could be used for hungry stomachs and you’re using it for your hungry eyes.‘

There are still some intriguing moments in there such as our hero’s windfall coming from his silhouette being the new logo for a brand of lightbulbs. And the slow drip of information about his dead childhood friend Jack lifts the book when it has slumped into another pointless corridor of pointing up the dumb things Yanks do when they‘re abroad. (Brian Donaldson)

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