–Don’t you think the vast majority of the chaos in the world is caused by a relatively small group of disappointed men?
–I don’t know. Could be.
–The men who haven’t gotten the work they expected to get. The men who don’t get the promotion they expected. The men who are dropped in a jungle or a desert and expected video games and got mundanity and depravity and friends dying like animals. These men can’t be left to mix with the rest of society. Something bad always happens.
If Seth Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek was the best book I’ve read so far in 2014, then Dave Egger’s Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is by far the most unique and concise. The book does away with setting the scene and describing the action (minimal, anyways); Eggers instead writes the brisk novel in 212 pages of dialogue.
There are few plots this sparse style would assist, but Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is a novel about a young man with questions, some of them very big, and his search for answers. All we need to learn of Thomas’s struggle, to learn of what he calls “the questions piling up and strangling me at night,” is the back and forth discussion between him and those he kidnaps. And at the novel’s opening, Thomas’s decision to find answers by kidnapping an astronaut and chaining him to a post in an abandoned army base outside of Monterey seems like a very bad idea.
But as the book progresses, along with Thomas’s kidnapping prowess–he brings a congressman, a teacher, his mother, and a police officer to the base, as well as a few others–some of his motivations make sense. Eggers allows us to look at the world through the lenses of this angry thirty-something. Thomas is lost in what he thinks is the very worst way, as he’s a man without a cause–he has no canal to build, no war to fight, no space race to join. He explains:
You don’t know what it’s like to be a man over thirty who’s never had anything happen to him. You spend so many years trying to stay safe, stay alive, to avoid some unknown horror. Then you realize the horror is existence itself. The nothing-happening.
This is a return to the Dave Eggers of A Hologram for the King. Where The Circle was exaggerated to an exhausting point, overwritten and over-plotted, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is sparse and clear. Eggers still reaches big here, making statements on everything from police brutality to fiscal spending. But while The Circle left me sitting outside its spectacle, wondering what exactly to think about it all, half-laughing and half-worried, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? brings me right down into the drama, asking me to walk in Thomas’s sad little shoes. Eggers gives a voice to the modern young American man: seeking his place, demanding too much, blaming others, desperately unhappy. It’s a quick, unforgettable read.