Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
Dave Eggers has released three novels in less than two years. He’s always seemed prolific but it’s foot-firmly-on-the-gas for the writer right now; he’s never seemed so inspired. In fact his latest, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? was written before The Circle – very shortly after A Hologram For The King. It’s easy to see the inspiration and there’s even something of a thematic curve here, a way of loosely tying together these three books, a frustration, a head-scratch at the way we now live our lives – that this is where we find ourselves; they’re almost fictionalised essays asking different versions of a how did it all go so wrong?kind of question.
Your Fathers plays along on a stylistic trope of being a novel entirely sold via dialogue, completely told from the point of view of Thomas – a handful of characters get to react to questions he puts to them. They are always on the back foot. If it seems a little constricting at first there’s a wonderful tension – and then often some levity – that comes from this situation. Thomas is frustrated at the world and his place in it, he wants answers. He’s Holden Caulfield with Google at his fingertips; he’s Mark David Chapman with a few more options. He appears both smarter and more desperate than either.
It’s a moral tale where the moralising is flexible, the archetypes on display – characters include an astronaut, congressman, police officer and school teacher – all have insight and have been involved in let-downs. They are both honourable and not ever to be entirely trusted, they have baggage – we only ever find out about it in retrospect and given they’re under duress.
Eggers has created a short thrill-ride, a novel that’s probably designed to be bitten off and chewed through in a single serve – or so close to it. And it works because the reader is working as if an eavesdropper, piecing together outcomes and clues, understanding context only as the novel’s action spirals.
Is Eggers’ writing this as a response to so many school shootings; to the way the media disposes of the guilty in a way not entirely dissimilar to the way victims are chosen and dispatched? Is he telling us there’s always more to the story and we must be the ones to ask questions? And has he managed to humanise the worrying situation within the modern world where anger manifests inside strange ideas of entitlement, bubbling up from under, resulting in innocent lives being challenged by someone who might just have had their head “screwed on one turn too tight?” I believe he has – and that he manages to do that by giving us just a first-name for his main character, eventually an age, and a few other details – that’s the masterstroke. Here he gives us, through the very real voice of someone strangely troubled and in search of what, quite likely, will forever remain unanswerable a novel compelling, frightening, exhilarating.