Ever since the time about ten years ago when The Wife introduced me to the concept of ‘vacation reading’ by handing me a copy of Travels With Charley, I have understood the great importance of choosing the proper book for a getaway. Something interesting, but not too serious; insightful, but not weighty. Bryson is the Gold Standard, of course, and McKibben is always solid, though travel and fiction generally trump nonfiction in this genre. And a fresh Surfer’s Journal can last awhile– if you can keep from reading it the night before the trip.
So, in an effort to take a break from reading about God and grief, and fresh with the tip from Kester that my writer of the moment had written a novel, the Girlie and I stopped by the bookstore to pick it up. While there, I passed on the temptation of a good-looking Didion and stuck with the original plan. And I’m glad I did.
Oh, sure, the main character’s name is Will, and he has a ‘disfigured’ face, and he has a life-threatening heart condition that is progressing as he nears thirty. Yeah, that definitely made the book a little more harrowing than it was perhaps intended, but it was good enough that I still couldn’t put it down.
Eggers writes a fast-paced, absolutely compelling story with nuance and symbolism and desperation and gut-wrenching angst as he continues to explore themes of grief, loss, pain, and dark redemption. Will and his trigger-man (‘Hand’) are on a crazy quest to travel around the world and give away a whole bunch of money in a single week, and I was breathless for the sake of its success. Getting inside Will’s head felt like a journey inside my own, and hearing pitch-perfect dialog at every turn while seeing the world with such vivid and jocular description (“A middle-aged woman, with curly iron-colored hair and the happy tired face of a third-grade teacher in her last year, asked if she could help us and we said she could.”) is better than being there. It is a beautiful and disheartening world, indeed.
In trying to get a grip on this world and to make it better, Eggers seems to be searching for — and trying to create– a ‘clumsy saint, a fast saint’. Someone who is good and urgent and who knows how to get stuff done in the face of the great ticking clock of life. Someone willing to be unclean and scarred, with plenty of compassion and some aggression, who will travel light, and who will make mistakes rather than succumb to inaction. Someone who gives away what he has– and his very life– to relieve the pain that is inside and all around all of us.