This is the newest Dave Eggers novel and like many of his other novels, it’s a well-written novel with an overly simplistic conceit and a deeply predictable and annoyingly cliched ending. It’s different from his more serious novels like What is the What and Heroes of the Frontier where an idea and characters are explored so much as a conceit is brought to fruition. The novel takes place in some kind of developing world post-conflict zone in which two construction workers are paving a road from a central part of the country to the capital. This is seen as a kind of progressive move on the newly formed government as a concession after the war. There’s planned a political parade on a tight schedule, and that’s the reason so much of the novel is about keeping track of the progress on the road. The entire novel is told in a tight 3rd person following an unnamed, but numbered worker who has worked for his international contracting company for a long time (some 60+ jobs long) and is training his young partner, who’s a bit more of a tourist in the job. Neither men are from the country and while the younger one speaks the language, this difference plays a large role in the novel. When the younger man becomes more interested in purposely breaking the rules, in fraternizing with the locals, and with giving away the “unneeded” supplies from the truck, there’s a growing conflict.
Given the purposely ambiguous (or multi-guous) nature of the setting, the language, and other identifying features, this novel works as a kind of fable about Western morality, conflict zones, and power. It’s weak in a lot of ways, but also compelling as well.