Monday, September 29, 2014

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

You all know I'm a big Dave Eggers fan, so you know I loved Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?  I thought he really brilliantly captured this sort of zeitgeist, as he often does, of our time - particularly regarding responsibility of the person and the state.  Told entirely in dialogue, but without traditional quotation marks or indicators of who is speaking, a young man speaks to these people that he has kidnapped and is holding in a former military base on the California coast.

At first it's kind of amusing - he has kidnapped an astronaut, and he asks him a series of questions about why the space program doesn't go to the moon anymore and how it's disappointed him in terms of giving him and basically all of humanity something to be inspired and motivated by.  And then when he kidnaps another person, that's pretty funny too.  Without giving away too much of the story, which is quite short and better experienced without knowing too much of the story, what he's trying to do is find out some answers and come to terms with this thing that happened in his life.  What's interesting, however, is the more he seems to blame various agencies for this sort of terrible thing that happened, the more you realize he's completely unwilling to take any responsibility for himself and his own actions.  So, just as you're coming around to the side of this obviously troubled young man, the pendulum swings and changes your mind.  Then it swings again.
- So when I got back I tried to talk some sense into anyone who thought going into some country on the other end of the world to exert our will would be a cute idea, and the main problem with a cute idea like that is that these plans are carried out by groups of nineteen-year-olds who can't tie their shoes and who think it's great fun to run around goofing with grenades poorly secured to their uniforms. Wars put young men  in close proximity to grenades and guns and a hundred other things they will find a way to fuck up. These days men in war get themselves killed far more often than they get killed by someone else.
For me, eventually, the young man and his kidnap-ees become less and less character and more symbols of what they represent - which I thought was rather elegant.  I'm not sure if others will have experienced it the same way so I'd be curious what you think if you've read the book - please comment!   The title really slays me too because it's a bit mysterious - like, is the young man asking this question, or are these the questions that arise from the book, which is not particularly about religion in any way but arguably about absent fathers.  So it makes me think... Dave Eggers, Is It About Absent Fathers? And the Title, How Important Is It?  I Have to Think Pretty Important, Right?  But the only place I didn't think the book worked in general was when the dialogue was a bit more Socratic and less natural - just a few times I felt like I was being held too tightly by the hand, despite the fact that I think I have quite similar political leanings as Eggers.  In any event, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is yet another astonishing book by my literary hero and I encourage you to check it out!

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