Your Fa­thers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live For­ever?

NZ Today - - ON BOOKS - Dave Eg­gers Knopf, Pen­guin

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.

Si­mon Sweet­man

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