You Shall Know Our Velocity
is the first novel from Dave Eggers, author of the bestselling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
. Although this is a work of fiction, its themes, preoccupations, and even its pair of central characters will feel strikingly familiar to readers of his unorthodox autobiography. Where A Heartbreaking Work
charted, among many, many other things, the death of Eggers' parents, this book's narrator, Will Chmielewski, is mourning the loss of his childhood friend, Jack. In the wake of Jack's death, Will, who came into $80,000 dollars after his silhouette was used as a logo on a lightbulb, embarks on a trip around the world with another old friend, Hand. They will not only make their wayward circumnavigation in a week--"we'd see what we could see in six, six and half days, and then go home"--but they'll also dispose of Will's lightbulb money along the way.
Flying from Chicago, these twenty-something, philanthropic Phileas Foggs (Generation Y's Bob and Bing, in fact) hope to start their odyssey in Greenland and finish on the top of Cheops pyramid in Egypt. Of course bad weather, visa regulations, the intransigence of airline authorities and "the unmitigated slowness of moving from place to place" consistently thwart their plans. ("Should we not have teleporting by now?" an exasperated Will asks at one point.) Journeying to Senegal through Morocco and onto Estonia and Latvia, the hapless duo devise increasingly bizarre means to, arbitrarily, hand money to needy locals. They try to pin wads of notes onto goats, over-tip pole dancers, hire cabs for minute distances and create a "real treasure" hunt, replete with map.
There is a curious unreality about how Will and Hand interact with the people they meet. Like Eggers and his younger brother Toph in A Heartbreaking Work, they've retreated into a kind of male adolescent fantasy bubble where the world is a largely a game for their own amusement. The idea of rich yanks dolling out cash willy nilly is, as Eggers is well aware, itself slightly tasteless. The narrative is however, almost mercilessly, metacritical--Will's every worry, doubt, and guilty reflection is taken to its nth degree. Eggers' self-ironising style is as infuriating and as beguiling as ever, but this is a far less tricksy book than his memoir. There are fewer typographical gimmicks and, while it would be impossible ever to describe Eggers' prose as restrained, his writing is less ostentatious here and for that reason all the more impressive. It's simply a quite startling and occasionally tender piece of work, buzzing with annoyingly magnificent sentences, ideas and jokes. --Travis Elborough
"Headlong, heartsick and footsore....Frisbee sentences that sail, spin, hover, circle and come back to the reader like gifts of gravity and grace....Nobody writes better than Dave Eggers about young men who aspire to be, at the same time, authentic and sincere." -- "The New York Times Book Review "You Shall Know Our Velocity! is the work of a wildly talented writer... Like Kerouac's book, Eggers's could inspire a generation as much as it documents it." -- "LA Weekly "There's an echolet of James Joyce there and something of Saul Bellow's Chinatown bounce, but we're carried into the narrative by a fluidity of line that is Eggers's own." -- "Entertainment Weekly "Eggers is a wonderful writer, bold and inventive, with the technique of a magic realist." --" Salon "An entertaining and profoundly original tale." -- "San Francisco Chronicle "Eggers 's writing really takes off -- his forte is the messy, funny tirade, stuffed with convincing pain and wry observations." -- "Newsday "Often rousing ...achieves a kind of anguished, profane poetry." -- "Newsweek "The bottom line that matters is this: Eggers has written a terrific novel, an entertaining and imaginative tale." -- "The Boston Globe "There are some wonderful set-pieces here, and memorable phrases tossed on the ground like unwanted pennies from the guy who runs the mint." -- "The Washington Post Book World "Powerful.... Eggers's strengths as a writer are real: his funny pitch-perfect dialog; the way his prose delicately captures the bumblebee blundering of Will's thoughts; ... and the stream-water clarity of his descriptions.... There is genius here.... Who is doing more, single-handedly andsingle-mindedly, for American writing?" -- "Time
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