Monday, June 17, 2013
I've long suspected it - that's why I never read Heartbreaking Circle-Jerk or whatever it was. But the other day in a big-box bookstore, I came across his latest, A Hologram for the King. A bland novel about a bland man in Saudi Arabia and the best thing I can say about it is it validated all my preconceptions.
Let's take style first, as that's clearly what Eggers pins his whole rep on. It's really an indictment of the entirety of modern literature because he ain't got none. The majority of the prose is flatter than the Arabian desert in which it's supposedly set and the closest to stylistic flourish he can get to is that old Joyce gem of replacing quotation marks with just a dash. There's a reason so few writers who actually get read do that - it's fucking annoying. And it doesn't help that Eggers can't be bothered to add real inflection or distinct mannerisms to his characters, so you just get a bunch of automatons gabbing at each other in a vacuum.
Which brings us to the substance of Hollow King. Or the lack thereof. A three hundred page road trip through one of the most important deserts in the world but you'd never know it as Eggers focuses all his energy on protagonist Alan Clay, the saddest sack ever sacked. He's nominally in Saudi to pitch some new hypertech doodad to King Abdullah but wouldn't ya know it, he just can't pin down the old ibn sharmutah! So the novel becomes just a long whine over all his problems.
A failed, middle-aged businessman isn't necessarily a dull character. There's plenty of narrative room to explore layers of bitterness and desperate hope but, like every bad writer, Eggers lacks both the awareness and imagination to think outside his own person. So he writes his protagonist as just another navel-gazing yuppie.
The one character with any character is Yuossof, Clay's driver. Aside from the blatant ignorance of sticking an educated Saudi in a service position, he doesn't even behave like an Arab. Not even an Arab stereotype! Instead he's much more the fast and chatty Mexican, apparently because Eggers assumes all brown people are the same.
Throw 'em together - Saggy Man and Gyro Grande - and you get... nothing. Absolutely nothing happens in this book. It's the literary equivalent of static. White noise in print that you don't absorb and can't remember, which really makes it ideal for its intended audience.