Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: "A Hologram for the King" by Dave Eggers

I never really liked Dave Eggers. His persona always struck me of the worst kind of intellectual behavior: self-centered and unoriginal. So it was a great surprise to me when he seemed to have changed over the past couple of years. He is no longer someone I feel ruins the idea of what a smart person should be and act like, and now, I actually value his opinion on new books, because I now believe that it comes from a place of love and not simply validation. He has taken the place of Jonathan Franzen, as America’s preeminent literary guru (while, as evidenced by recent interviews with him, Franzen has taken the place of America’s literary blowhard). This new feeling of mine was cemented when I finished Egger’s novel from last year, A Hologram for the King, for it is unlike anything that I would come to expect from him. The book is very straightforward, minus the lack of quotations, and tells a very simple yet profound story about a man’s journey to redemption against some painfully impossible odds. It is a story that has been done before, most notably in Death of a Salesman and Waiting for Godot, which this book combines the themes off. But it does so in a way that injects a lot of heart into the proceedings, and puts the sense of urgency and grandiosity in terms that almost anyone can understand. Through Alan Clay, Eggers creates a hero’s trial of a modern man stuck in a tortuously complex place. That place is in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia, where Alan, with the help of a few eager 20-something employees, convince the king of the Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, to let his company finance the construction of a mega-city in the desert. But repeated attempts to contact the king to get a one-on-one meeting, using a hologram machine, are thwarted by agonizingly silly circumstances. The two plays mentioned above really are at the heart of the novel: the wait for the king in the hot desert feels a lot like the wait for Godot on a lonely stretch of road, and the hole that Alan has dug for himself financially conveys the same feeling that Willy Loman’s last heartbreaking days had. Another treat that this book offers is the weird minutia that exists with Alan’s past life and present one. His friend, Charlie, killed himself by walking out into a lake near Alan’s in the winter and freezing to death, which is making the property that much harder to sell and get money to pay for his daughters Ivy League tuition, his main reason for going out to the desert. Also, between becoming addicted to Arabian moonshine and nursing a weird growth on the back of his neck, he meets a wide variety of strange people, like a cab driver who likes his corny jokes, and a doctor who awakens his need to feel alive in the face of adversity. This book is filled with little treats and a quick, inevitable ending that shows that life may go on if you want it to. I enjoyed this book very much, and I’m glad we have someone like Dave Eggers, which is something I never thought I would say.
Rating: 5/5

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