By the time you’ve finished reading the title of Dave Eggers’s 2014 novel, you’re practically halfway done with the book itself. At 230 pages it is not exactly a back-breaking tome, and since it is written entirely in dialogue, it moves even faster than its brevity would suggest. Unfortunately, the book is light in more ways than one. Despite some clever writing and a few hints at a more meaningful story, Eggers’s title is much more memorable than his story.
As for that story, it opens in media res, as an angry young man named Thomas is interrogating an astronaut named Kev whom he has kidnapped and chained to a post in an decommissioned army base. Though the astronaut doesn’t remember him, the two had met briefly in college, and Thomas’s purpose in his crime is to talk at length about life and it’s many disappointments. Thomas is upset on Kev’s behalf because budget cuts have wrecked Kev’s chance of achieving his dream of flying on the Space Shuttle. Kev of course is more concerned with the fact that he has been kidnapped.
Eventually, their conversation leads Thomas to kidnap another person he has questions for, and then several more after that. Thomas is a confused young man, purposeless and lost. He has vague notions that the world has let him down and owes him more. He is impervious to his victims’ suggestions that he has more control over his fate than he thinks. Eggers lays it on thick in his treatment of Thomas as an entitled millennial, perhaps justly aggrieved to a certain extent but also whiny and self-involved to a dangerous extent.
This portrait of entitled young white maleness is somewhat complicated by an undercurrent of a story involving Thomas’s friend Don, a Vietnamese immigrant killed in a police standoff after leading a tragic life. Though the circumstances of Don’s death bubble up in the novel’s climax, readers expecting a meaningful conclusion will be disappointed. The story devolves into an ugly portrait of Thomas’s delusions, leaving the reader wondering what exactly was the point of it all.