Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dave Eggers, _Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?_

I READ THIS on a long plane trip about five weeks ago. In the early going, it reminded me a bit of Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint--first, because it is all dialogue, and second, because in the first chapter one speaker has gone to a reckless, indignant extreme in his desire to hold the powers to be responsible for their wrongdoing, and the other speaker is trying to talk him down.

Hard to imagine Leon Wieseltier taking time out of his busy day to scotch this snake, though, because it turns out what we have is more of a radio play. The reckless, indignant, somewhat crazed kidnapper of chapter one turns out to be Thomas, a no-longer-young man whose life has never quite found its track. His whole generation, he feels, has been gypped, and he embarks on a series of kidnappings trying to get to the bottom of the scam, keeping his victims (most of whom he knows and all of whom he holds to some degree accountable) tied up in the barracks of a de-commissioned military base while he questions/harangues them.

As the interrogations/harangues proceed, Thomas seems less and less the John Brown of the millennials and more and more someone who just never solved the puzzle of being an adult. The people whom he forces onto the witness stand of this improvised trial--a worldly senator, a substance-abusing mom, a pedophile former teacher, the policeman who perhaps unnecessarily gunned down one of Thomas's friends--all turn out to be, as we hear them speak, not the clich├ęs they come on stage as, but ordinary fallible people trying to figure out how to live. Thomas wants to turn them into the power-abusing villains who have wrecked his and his generation's hopes, but they all turn out to be just people trying, like him, to get by somehow. With every interview, one's conviction grows that Thomas is basically a (mostly) good-hearted fuckup, and that things have failed to pan out for him for the most obvious and ordinary kind of reasons.

Thomas is about to be captured as the novel ends; we don't have much hope for his future, although he does seem to have stumbled upon a vocation, having demonstrated a rare and real talent for kidnapping.

Whatever happened to radio plays, anyway? I would definitely give this a listen if NPR, say, gave it two hours.

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