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January 27, 2004 at 12 AM

Skewer and Grill to a Crisp

Dave Eggers has a new “political serial” appearing in Salon entitled “The Unforbidden Is Compulsory; Or, Optimism”. The story is a fictitious skewering of American politics, in which an underwhelming candidate, with the aid of his vicious minions, campaigns for the California legislature.

If the first chapter is any indication, Eggers has mostly venom and bile spraying from his inket cartridge:

After deciding to run, Stuart waited a week and then, standing on a stage with a couple in their seventies and a pretty, well-dressed woman in her thirties — none of them related or married to Stuart — reported that his family had given him the green light. Neither Stuart not Sergei made any claims that these people were his family, nor did they claim that the broad coalition of Latinos, whites, blacks, American Indians, Asians, children and the aged standing behind them literally were actually a broad coalition of Latinos, whites, blacks, American Indians, Asians, children and the aged standing behind him metaphorically or in any other way. Who they were and where Sergei had found them and what he’d paid them no one would ever know.

Some fine political satire, just in time for the Democratic primaries. Eggers is often at his best when he shows no mercy.

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I shall mention that I bought Eggers’ first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, before I’d ever heard of him, before he’d become a critical darling and publishing phenomenon. The title of his memoirs — pure marketing genius, really — caught my eye at the bookstore one day, and after I’d leafed through the preface, with its odd little drawing of a stapler, and self-effacing humour, I was hooked. The book isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. Eggers has a knack for nailing a sentence, and he is a talented storyteller.

Some people I know have said they don’t enjoy his writing, and that too I can understand. Eggers’ cleverness sometimes veers into elitist smarm. His narrative methods might be described less charitably as “tricks”. Even I felt a little bogged down by the end of …Staggering Genius.

Perhaps because of that, perhaps because of some tepid reviews, I haven’t yet read You Shall Know Our Velocity, Eggers’ second book (and first novel). I never found myself ready for another large dose. Here then is a chance to take in some Eggers a little at a time. And if you can’t find any interest in the Deans, Kerrys and Bushes of the real world — lord knows, they don’t make it easy, especially that Kerry fellow — perhaps Stuart Craspedacusta will strike your fancy.

(A winning candidate’s name if I’ve ever read one.)

Update: Beerzie Boy pointed me to “Measuring the Jump”, a short story by Eggers which appeared in the September 1, 2003 New Yorker.

Comments

Yes, Eggers is a fine (if imperfect) writer. It is odd that he inspires such venom from his detractors. I like his work, though.

He recently had a very good short story published in the New Yorker, by the way.

be | Jan. 27, 2004 — 1 PM

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