By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
It’s not that these authors are unaware of their flaws. The protagonist of Johnson‘s best book, Jesus’ Son, is nicknamed “Fuckhead.” “So there‘s the matter of our crimes,” writes Rick Moody at the start of his memoir The Black Veil. “The remembrance of our misdoings is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.” In Y.S.K.O.V., Will blows $1,600 on airplane tickets, musing, “I thought of the people who could live or eat off money like this -- how many people and for how long. We were motherfucking bastards. I buried the shame deep within. I burned it and danced around it, leapt over it.”
Will’s charity has shades of Eggers‘ own; it’s been reported that the author burned through a lot of his A.H.W.O.S.G. earnings on his publishing ventures, 826 Valencia and travels to various exotic locales. Though the conversations between Will and Hand crackle with energy and wit, they sometimes seem less like two distinct characters than an internal monologue between two sides of the author. In A.H.W.O.S.G., Eggers played with this idea in a postmodern, 50-page exchange between himself and a producer for MTV‘s Real World. In Y.S.K.O.V., Will likens his brain to “a toddler in a room full of new guests,” tells us it “hovers on hummingbird wings,” and has imaginary conversations with other characters, including a 10-page fever dream in which he pleads, “Fuck. I want out of this fucking head.” So be it. Will’s narration is an amazingly accurate portrayal of the way grief can bend into madness. And if Y.S.K.O.V. were nothing more than an earnest, funny, angsty document of one human mind‘s back-and-forth over the guilt and horror of life and death, it would be well worth the price of admission ($22).
But it’s more than that. Eggers nails the ludicrousness of pop culture. In a bar in Estonia, “A big screen TV was activated, and on it a movie featuring crazy sharks with huge brains eating scientists and LL Cool J.” At a travel agency in Senegal, a character wears his socks “Van Horned up around his calves.” Without judgment, these references (to the film Deep Blue Sea and the NBA‘s reigning dufus, Keith Van Horn, respectively) deftly show how ridiculous a world it is America has constructed via entertainment exports.
Eggers also brings youth to the page, both its deep affections and its idiocy. On one hand, Will remembers Champagne Snowball, the junior high dance: “Feel the heat of her chest against yours. Feel the heave. You will never know heaving like that again so soak in that heave.” On the other, he remembers dousing a cow with gasoline and burning it alive: “We had no right. This was the same year we first wanted to kiss all the girls. We were darkhearted boys. We should have been jailed or drugged or killed. I remember watching that cow burn with total detachment.”
Most importantly, Eggers underscores America’s obscene wealth and know-nothing outlook on the rest of the world. At a reading at Midnight Special a month ago, he had this to say about Y.S.K.O.V.‘s plot: “Someone asked if it was an allegory for American intervention abroad. And I was . . .” -- he paused, smiled, demured -- “. . . flattered by that.” Still, it’s hard not to read the book as a timely parable.
You Shall Know Our Velocity is the work of a wildly talented writer early in his career, propelled by a brain hovering on hummingbird wings, and shaking a bit as he takes flight. Let me share the last lines of the novel because, for a book that opens by foretelling the death of its narrator, they provide reason to hope: “. . . I lived! We lived!”
YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY | By DAVE EGGERS | McSweeney‘s Books | 371 pages $22 hardcover