Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Dave Egger's "A Hologram for the King"

The first thing every reviewer of this book will mention is if you haven't got a hardback copy in hand yet, then go do so! It's cover goes beyond pretty somewhere past the realm of fancy and deep into the dark interiors of decadence. This book's cover is what we bibliofiles have unmentionable dreams about. Thick and soft with deep etched letters and intricate carvings that all gleam with a dull faded gold. You see what I mean...

As for the book itself the title pretty much sums up the concept. The main character, Alan Clay, is in Saudi Arabia to present a demonstration of an American hologram software to the King. Pretty simple, right? Wrong! Dave Eggers could care less about the trite plot line and instead immerses you inside the mind of a man who has to come to terms with that fact that he's lost his steam and can't keep up anymore.

His character is in no way meant to be "Everyman". Alan Clay is optimistic but worn down. Alan Clay is trying as hard as he can but not going anywhere. Alan Clay is persistent and keeps trying to write that letter to his daughter. Alan Clay might have cancer, but he'll just cut the growth off his spine with a serrated hotel knife instead.

And yet, Egger's beautiful ability as a writer comes forward when this character remains intriguing and approachable. Maybe everyone can't relate to Alan Clay, but everyone can get to know him. By the end it's like parting with an old friend. The supporting characters are a bit distant and foreign, but only in the sense that Alan perceives them as such, be that because they are Muslim or because they are Dutch, or because they are women.

 The plot may feel like it's spinning its wheels but not going anywhere either. But it does move around a bit, without really accomplishing anything. And in many ways that's the picture not just of the American in the Saudi desert but the image of America in a world starting to pass it by. An America that still tries so hard, but is slowly losing touch with what it once had.

Eggers however does attempt to leave the reader on a lighter note. Instead of addressing the implications and consequences of Alan Clay's meeting with the King, and the deeper implications of Alan standing for America as well., the ending dissolves into sensory bath of underwater skin, desert light, and the love making that could have been between old bodies. But maybe that would be his vision for America. That the country stop trying to keep up. And start remembering how to really live life.

Or maybe he just wrote a story. A damn good story.

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