Saturday, July 13, 2013

Getting in touch in the cold desert of the modern world (Books - A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers)

I'm a fan of Dave Eggers clean, mission-infused writing from having read What is the What, a fictionalized biography of one of Sudan's lost boys.  A Hologram for the King (Vintage, 2012) is more straightforwardly novelistic, that is, it is not about anyone Eggers knew.  And yet.  And yet, it is a portrait of a man we all know, a man of our times.  Alan Clay is an IT salesman and a dreamer.  He is divorced, can no longer pay his mortgage or his daughter's college tuition.  He is trying to make one last sale to hold his work-driven life together.  So he comes to a poorly air conditioned, nearly empty tent in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert to make a business pitch to the King.  Only, neither he nor anyone else know when the king will arrive.  He makes the trip day after day, week after week, hoping for his chance to sell his wares  - a system which includes the ability to have business meetings via hologram - and put his life back together.  And succeed. 

Eggers places Alan thousands of miles from home, separated from his wife, unable to speak with his father on the phone for two minutes without a fight, composing countless openings to a letter to his daughter which end balled up in the waste bin.  He has a frightening growth on his neck.  His life consists of endless waiting, of receptionists who will not let him speak with another person. Eggers creates a sense of place that is barren.  Where most of the things that move and express are electronic.
A the end of the hall he spotted an elevator door closing.  He jogged to it and thrust his hand into the gap.  The doors jerked back, startled and apologetic.  
Here success means that Alan's will connect the king, if he ever comes, with another person who is not really there. 
Everywhere, relationships no longer mattered, Alan knew this.  They did not matter in American, they did not matter much of anywhere, but here, among the royals, he hoped that friendship had meaning.
A Hologram for the King is a man's journey to get back in touch.  To remember the value of other lives.  To move from asking people's name as a sales technique, to having some sort of authentic contact with other living persons, not figments in his head.  To have real encounters with real people, not build holograms for kings.  It is a keenly observed book, the voice reminding me more of Didion's essays than anything else - spare writing which looks, sees, and describes.  The book's effect opines, but Eggers's narrative doesn't preach.  Amidst his clean prose is a message of genuine warmth.


Sheila O'Malley said...

Can't wait. Wow.

Ted said...

Another "only connect" novel. His writing has gotten leaner and leaner. I'll be interested to hear what you think of this one.

Vicki said...

Have never heard of this author but the book sounds really interesting.

Ted said...

Welcome Vicki -
Eggers (based on the two books of his I have read) is well worth getting to know. An intelligent writer with taste and a drive to tell meaningful stories.