My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dave Eggers' most recent book is sad without being tragic. It has a stark beauty that speaks volumes without saying a lot. I can't really compare it to anything else I've read recently, even his other works.
Alan Clay, former Schwinn enthusiast and salesman, now a divorcee/self-employed consultant holding on to his last strands of dignity, travels to Saudi Arabia to pitch a proposal to King Abdullah. There, he leads a team of three young (that is, younger than Alan) people as they prepare their IT presentation--a holographic teleconference--that, if impressive enough to the king, would give their company sole IT responsibility in the king's pet project, King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
Day after day, Alan and his team gather in a tent in the city, waiting for the king, whose schedule is never set in stone. In a series of flashbacks and letters written to his grown daughter, we learn about Alan's rise and fall in the business world, his failed relationship, and the unfortunate dip his life has taken as of late.
Areas of the book meander here and there--Alan befriends a young Saudi man, confronts a lump on the back of his neck, and meets several women of varying romantic interest--but the essence remains: what has become of the America and the American Dream that Alan knew so well when he first became a salesman? If the Saudi desert seems like a strange place to ponder this, well, it is.
The minimalist approach and language mirror the physical landscape in the book--sweeping expanses of beige broken by stilted dialogue. Despite being 312 pages, this was a quick read with lots of page breaks. Several of the story detours felt out of place, but the pacing ensured these didn't last long.
Is this a particularly memorable read? No. I'm not a middle-aged white guy or a member of the Corporate America Club by any means. Still, I enjoyed this book for what it is and for the week of warm weather it gave my imagination.
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