YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND THE PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER?
By Dave Eggers
Eggers’s latest novel returns to a theme from his earlier work: frustrated young men seeking meaning but mostly succeeding at being pissed off. The plot, such as it is, follows Thomas as he kidnaps a group of people and interrogates them, one by one, seeking answers to misguided questions.
The short novel is composed exclusively of dialogue, which means Eggers sacrifices much of his narrative and descriptive prowess in exchange for a jagged dialogic skeleton. Raw deal, I say. Still, he is gesturing toward a source of (usually) latent rage that warrants our attention. What to do with today’s young men aimless enough to lament a lack of purpose but entitled enough to demand gratification?
Thomas, a disaffected failure in his thirties, purports to articulate a polemic about frustrated young people craving inspiration, but mostly he comes across as an incoherent fool. Eggers lets him vent, because there must be someone to blame, there just must be, when a young man doesn’t get the job, girl or recognition he thinks he deserves. Thomas asks: “Do you realize what a strange race of people we are? No one else expects to get their way the way we do. Do you know the madness that this unleashes upon the world?”
At some point, Thomas spies a beautiful lady—the babe of his dreams, no less—and vows to make her his, to possess her, before even getting around to saying hi. When such a woman says no to such a man, when reality proves less obliging than an on-screen porn star to be clicked, there should be no cause for indignation. And yet, above all, Thomas needs people to account for the failure of his delusions. He drags in his mother to blame her rearing. He asks a congressman why it is easier for the United States government to invade Iraq and Afghanistan rather than do “something that would inspire us in some goddamned way.” He wants his former teacher, a borderline pedophile, to take responsibility for Thomas’s adult alienation.
Thomas never succeeds at introspection, only flame-throwing. He takes as his hero an astronaut who did everything right in a dedicated and purposeful life until NASA decided it wasn’t economically feasible to keep sending humans into space. Thomas cannot cope with a universe in which a life dedicated to a worthy ambition isn’t fulfilled. Naturally, Thomas kidnaps the astronaut too, and asks him how he dealt with this grave injustice. That’s life, you madman, says the astronaut.