I usually don’t blog books I don’t like, but You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers deserves special treatment because it proved such a disappointment. The opening sentence is one of the best I’ve ever seen (The caps are from the text itself.)
EVERYTHING WITHIN TAKES PLACE AFTER JACK DIED AND BEFORE MY MOM AND I DROWNED IN A BURNING FERRY IN THE COOL TANNIN-TINTED GUAVIARE RIVER, IN EAST-CENTRAL COLOMBIA, WITH FORTY-TWO LOCALS WE HADN’T YET MET. IT WAS A CLEAR AND EYEBLUE DAY, THAT DAY, AS WAS THE FIRST DAY OF THIS STORY, A FEW YEARS AGO IN JANUARY, ON CHICAGO’S NORTH SIDE, IN THE OPULENT SHADOW OF WRIGLEY AND WITH THE WIND COMING LOW AND SEARCHING OFF THE JAGGED HALF-FROZEN LAKE. I WAS INSIDE, VERY WARM, WALKING FROM DOOR TO DOOR.
Makes you want to get in there, right? And the first few pages carry the same momentum. Two twenty-something buddies are trying to arrange to fly around the world in a week and give away $32, 000 in the process. Never mind why. At this point, you’re too caught up in figuring out routes and time zones and datelines to care about anything but the rush of phone calls and other arrangements. Eggers provides hints of the why’s of course, vague foreshadowings, and this makes the urgency of the situation all the more compelling.
Once the journey begins, however, the book degenerates into a mishmash of psuedointellectual psuedophilosophy and painfully lame attempts at humor. Many of the pair’s adventures seem like outtakes from a Dumb and Dumber movie (We’re now driving with our tongues. What a gas!!!) and the TV series Jackass (jumping from a moving car onto a moving donkey cart).
The protagonist is in a lot of physical and emotional pain and had my sympathy, though it seemed it was about time the got over it, until the interpolation of a commentary about halfway through the book from his partner, who said that the beating he said he received never happened and that his tragically dead friend never existed. I guess the friend was supposed to represent some good and innocent part of himself over which he would grieve endlessly, but I lost the little interest I had left in his plight right then. The rest of the book was a combination of skim and a trudge for me.
Eggers has made significant contributions to the American literary scene as the founder of McSweeney’s, and his first published work, a memoir entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was a finalist for a non-fiction Pulitzer, so he’s no slouch as an editor and a literary force. I hate to dis someone of his caliber, but YSKOV just did not find the right audience when it fell into my hands.