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ISSUE 117 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/17/2003

Critic's Corner: Dave Eggers's "You Shall Know Our Velocity!"

By Lauren Hoffman
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 17, 2003

As soon as you crack the spine of a book by Dave Eggers, all bets are off. From his memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” to the two collections of “The Best American Non Required Reading” he has edited, Eggers’ work is broad in scope, daring in form, defiant of literary convention and absolutely hilarious. Eggers’ talent is similarly evident in his first novel, recently released in paperback, entitled, “You Shall Know Our Velocity!”

Two best friends, Will and Hand, grieving the loss of their friend Jack, travel “around the world” in seven days, giving away $80,000 that Will has received and can’t bear to keep any longer. The two friends travel from Senegal to Casablanca to Morocco to London to Estonia to Denmark to Mexico City, getting drunk and meeting women. They aid the poor, seek redemption and search for an outlet for their grief. They select their destinations at random, choosing to keep moving no matter what. Will narrates the novel, offering readers a glance into a head that can’t think straight or slow its own thoughts in the aftermath of tragedy.

The relatively straightforward plot is enhanced by two elements of Eggers’ writing: the strength with which he creates interior monologue, and the rapid tempo of his prose. Will is developed to an extent most writers could not master. Eggers allows readers an unadulterated glimpse inside Will’s head, exposing them to every inch of his psyche. In a passage that is absolutely arresting, Eggers constructs an interior monologue where Will addresses Jack, who cannot answer no matter how loudly Will screams.

Eggers’ plot is not the book’s strongest attribute. He seems to focus on taking his readers’ breath away before they even fully comprehend what is going on. The novel’s most baffling passage is an extensive section three-quarters into the novel, in which Hand takes over the narrative voice and contradicts the story Will has been telling, asserting that there was no Jack.

Eggers is not inviting readers to comprehend the fast paced journey of Will and Hand; instead, he is inviting readers to travel alongside them, sharing in the momentum of their journey, waiting for them to finish their sentences, trying to understand the ways in which their heads work. The reader becomes the third companion on the trip, and sometimes can’t help but think that they are playing the role the now deceased Jack would have played in the threesome had he been alive.

The book is not without its weaknesses. Will and Hand’s adventures seem sophomoric at times, as does their dialogue -- the reader is often left wondering if Eggers was unable to curb his own fondness for profanity. Readers of Eggers’ previous work may come away from the text disappointed, wondering when he will begin writing about subject matter other than inner demons and profound grief.

Eggers announces on the very first page of the novel that Will is going to die shortly after the action contained in the novel takes place. This announcement may cause some readers to pout and claim he gives away the ending, an assertion that would be true if the novel was reliant only on plot, not wonderfully deep psychological analysis. However, despite these few shortcomings, the novel is a worthy read, a tale that takes readers on a dizzying journey and leaves them wanting more.

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