Saturday, January 26, 2013

Waiting

Sometimes prose will impress me as I'm reading it, but when I'm done I feel as though the pieces never really added up to anything. With his latest novel A Hologram for the King Dave Eggers produced just the opposite effect in me.  When I finished it the impact was surprisingly powerful.

In simple, clean language he tells the story of Alan Clay, a 54-year-old consultant, who has come to Saudi Arabia to demonstrate a holographic teleconferencing system to King Abdullah. He hopes to land the IT contract for the King Abdullah Economic City, a massive development being constructed in the desert outside Jeddah. Day after day Clay and his team sit in an unairconditioned tent in the barely started KAEC and wait for the arrival of the king.

There's no doubt that Eggers is paying homage to “Waiting for Godot” - the book's epigraph is a Samuel Beckett quote (“It is not every day that we are needed.”). And there's a bit of Willy Loman in the confused but hopeful Alan Clay. He began his career as a salesman in the most American of companies – Fuller Brush and Schwinn bicycles. But outsourcing has taken his job, and he has lost confidence in the superiority of American industry and his place in the new global economy. Divorced from his wife, concerned about paying his daughter’s college tuition, he struggles to understand a culture where much is forbidden but bans are ignored, where it seems impossible to get a straight answer out of anyone.

Eggers tells his story in a simple straightforward, sometimes comic, way. It's not preachy or political. But he manages to encapsulate so many of the themes of America in the twenty-first century into the travails of one decent man.

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