From reading his memoir, I get the very distinct impression that author David Eggers is the kind of guy I try to avoid at parties. The blustery, “you must listen to me and my ideas because they are just so awesome” kind of guy I never have the patience to humor. So you can imagine that listening to him (well, to his voice in my head as I read his words on the page) for the length of an entire novel was…staggering in its monumental boredom.
He started out well enough, with a unique random musing sort of free flow preface that was entertaining at first, but got old pretty quickly. And that is overall, the central problem with this book. Any well-phrased thought or insightful moment the author has is ruined by his inability to let it stand alone; clean and whole and…simple. Instead, he has to unpack the moment/thought/whatever. Unpack it and examine it and complain about it and ridicule it (or brag about it outrageously, depending on the situation) until you are just sick of hearing about it and any pleasure initially derived is lost in a wasteland of, “Dude – will you just shut the hell up!?!?”
That’s another problem with the story – you want to feel sorry for this guy, really, you do. I mean, both his parents die of cancer within weeks of each other (I’m not giving anything away here, Eggers reveals this himself on the dust jacket). But he feels so sorry for himself, that you just want to shake him and/or slap him and point out the fact that there are millions of people out there who have dealt with tragedies much worse…he was in his twenties when his parents die for one thing – sure beats losing them when he’s a kid. And yes, his little brother is still a kid and Eggers has somehow been shouldered with the task of raising him but he has two older siblings to help him out and relative financial stability. Many families are thrown into tremendous debt in the wake of a family member’s illness, but his parents had good health and life insurance; and enough assets that their children could: pack up, move to California, and bascially take the summer off from the realities of life. Not a bad way to deal with a horrible situation, all things considered. So, yes – it’s sad what happened to his family, and while tragedy will often allow for a certain degree of…allowance for otherwise asinine behavior, let’s say…Eggers blows his allowance in the first chapter or so.
Aside from the pages upon pages of musing that basically say the same thing, another irritating aspect of this novel involves the way Eggers deals with his parents’ deaths. Like the speech he gives at his mother’s funeral; rather than focus on the parents he has lost – the memoir is all about how the loss impacts HIS LIFE, how HE has to manage, cope, struggle, deal – and well, it’d be nice if he could do a better job acknowledging the lives that have been lost. His attitude reminds me of a memorial I recently attended for a much beloved professor and mentor at the university I graduated from. Near the end of the ceremony, past students were given a chance to stand up and share a memory of the man who had meant so much to all of us gathered there. A few stories were wonderful; snapshots of his life and personality that had us all laughing and crying. Many though, were about the speaker himself, and about what a great person he turned out to be (I guess the point was supposed to be that this greatness was in part owed to the dearly departed teacher, but the speaker rarely made it around to that point, too busy expounding on their own wondrousness). It all kind of made me sick, and angry, and left me biting my lip in a tremendous struggle to resist the need to jump up and shout, “Sit down! Nobody wants to hear about your life, we are here to remember Jack!” I resented the way these people seemed to steal the beauty of the moment for themselves – and that is very much how I feel about Egger’s work. He is so that guy who would be at a funeral and feel the need to turn the crowd’s attention to his pain, his accomplishments – simply, him.
Needless to say it was a struggle to finish the book, a struggle I clearly shared with fellow bookclub members, seeing as how many chose not to attend the discussion group, not having finished it – including the group’s head organizer, who has never missed a meeting yet. Unable to leave a book unfinished, I pushed through, but found it no great loss to miss the meeting. It was less than a week after I had delivered my baby, afterall, and this novel certainly was not worth the effort of getting out so soon after major surgery.
A statement that leads me to wonder what novels I would deem worth making an extra effort for…hmmm….I have to think about that. Diana Gababldon’s books, perhaps – though I doubt I will ever suggest them to my book club; their length is, ahem, rather intimidating. At least with Gabaldon, every page is interesting…and with the number of pages in her books, that is really saying something.