I have an ambivalent attitude towards Dave Eggers...on the one hand, the whole Young Famous Author bit annoys me (granted, the title may have been bestowed upon him against his wishes) and he strikes me as someone who would be insufferable at a cocktail party, like a literary version of Quentin Taratino- yeah, Kill Bill was great, but shut up already! On the other hand, he runs McSweeny's, which is a delight, and then there's his writing. It's stunningly good. My word, is it good. I recently read You Shall Know Our Velocity!, Eggers' first novel, which was released after his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius thrust him into the literary limelight. Our protagonist, Will, is an intelligent slacker type in the midst of an emotional upheaval. His close friend Jack dies in a car accident, he suffers a vicious beating in a storage facility, and he has $80,000 that he wants to get rid of. Reeling from Jack's death, he enlists the other surviving member of their childhood triumvirate, his friend Hand, to travel with him around the world and give away the money. The plan is capricious and downright idiotic- they will take a week, circumnavigate the globe, flying from one destination to the next without any real preparation- no travel visas, no winter coats.
The plot is simple enough but the book is a beauty, elevated by the simple yet captivating, creative writing and Will's character- he is tortured by his own thoughts and he constantly holds imaginary conversations with strangers passing by and the likes of Winston Churchill. Hand is occasionally worthwhile but in essence, he's the guy who you're friends with because you've been friends with him forever, not because you particularly like him. The book vacillates between being humorous (a Val Kilmer poster on the wall of a bar in Senegal, a hilarious description of middle school dances) and desperately sad (Will's breakdown in a Moroccan marketplace). I loved it. I don't think Eggers' style is for everyone, and I would describe YSNOV as a rather masculine book- it's about two guys who do stupid guy things, like trying to jump into moving vehicles and whatnot. However, if you read and liked AHWOSG or if you're at all a fan of modern fiction or haphazard travel, I'd recommend checking out You Shall Know Our Velocity! I really enjoyed it. Oh, and here's the New York Times review.