I glimpsed Dave Eggers once, very briefly, as he flew out the door of the 826 Valencia project in San Francisco. I was there learning about what it takes to build a world class literacy focused NGO from the ground up. He was just dropping in to the project he had helped found. He was impressively tanned and good looking. The not quite movie star looks that American male novelists seem to require. I met Michael Chabon on the same trip, and he had the same kind of looks. Maybe it’s a requirement for being a writer in San Francisco, where pretty much everyone is notably good looking. I was mostly impressed, however, with Eggers political commitment. Both to a project that was clearly a labour of love, and to writing as a political force. But, despite the conviction that I must do so, I’ve never quite made it back to Eggers fiction. This Washington Post review reminds me why I must.
You have to go back to Steinbeck and Vonnegut to find a popular American novelist so willing to deploy his talents to such deliberately political ends. And as with those two authors, Eggers’s success rate is erratic. His 2012 novel, “A Hologram for the King,” about a middle-aged man trying to reboot his career in Saudi Arabia, was a careful and affecting lament for America’s economic decline. “The Circle” 2013, though, was a tedious lecture on corporate tech firms’ erosion of our privacy. “Your Fathers” falls roughly in between.
Eggers is still tinkering with a moral fiction that’s as flexible and subtle as any other kind, and at its worst it sounds like it’s being said by an angry op-ed columnist on a bender. Yet the dialogue-only structure and depth of feeling in “Your Fathers” are to its credit. You know what Eggers wants to say, he says it quickly, and he says it with a respectably righteous fury.