Friday, December 30, 2005

What I Got For Christmas, Vol. 1

Dave Eggers, How We Are Hungry (McSweeney's) I feel like this is cheating a bit, this posting about a paperback book that I'm not even finished reading yet, only like 90 pages with over 130 left to go. And yet. I purchased Hungry in Selinsgrove with Christmas cash two days before Christmas, several hours prior to receiving some life-altering information (more on that in a few days) I didn't see coming at all, said info arriving when I was in the middle of the story about childhood friends vacationing together as adults in a Latin American paradise.
Anyone who's read Eggers before -- his Might/McSweeney's work or his contributions to "the literature" -- is familiar with his tendency to slather seriousness with silliness, a bit of sugar to make the nastiest medicine go down easy. I haven't revisited A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius because his handling, or embellishing, or idealization, or whatever of his parents early deaths and the aftermath just seemed too glib, too opportunistic. Even looking at the cover of the book on my shelf -- that pretentious crimson curtain shrouding a blue sky -- makes me a bit uncomfortable. Maybe that -- that and the fact than I'll be 29 in less than a month, that this major life shift is imminent, that my life has changed in so many ways, etc. -- is why Hungry, with its relatively carefree whimsy, reads to these eyes like a big flashing road sign that shouts "SEE THESE PEOPLE, THESE SILLY CHARACTERS WHO SAY AND DO AND WORRY ABOUT TRIVIAL THINGS? SEE HOW THEY SCURRY, THEY ACHE, THEY LUST, THEY FEAR, THEY LIVE? YOU ARE NOW BEYOND THIS LIFESTYLE, LIKE IT OR NOT; YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN." Suddenly, Eggers' cloying and viewing of circumstances from too many ridiculous angles feels less like a stylistic tic he needs to squash and more like a strength, a subtle device he uses to elicit pangs of poignant, nostaligic sadness, memories of moments you'd forgotten, of people, of situations, of places and sensations, all at once unimportant or considerably reduced in import in the face of the present. So yeah, it's a great book, so far anyway, but if you're gonna read it at my age, steel yourself.

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