Schmacko's Reviews > A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
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Sep 03, 2012

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Read in August, 2012

I have to admit that this is my first Dave Eggars, and it was OK. I can tell he’s a talented writer, but I had a major misgiving with a major choice he made. So, I guess what I need to do is to judge Eggars by his other well-known books: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What, and You Shall Know Our Velocity.

This book is about a middle-aged salesman who has gone to Saudi Arabia to sell the King a new teleconferencing technology. The salesman – a bit of a modern Willy Loman – is named Alan Clay. Clay has failed at other businesses, mainly because the world changed on him; America became less about making products (like bicycles) and more about selling knowledge (like holographic teleconferencing technology). Clay is divorced from a fiery, somewhat egoistic wife; he is also paying his daughter’s way through Columbia, so he must make this sale in a business he doesn’t understand too well. He is depending on his old-school salesman charm in a country and a world that is foreign to him, with culture, habits, and mores that are odd and precarious.

I get what Eggars is saying. Perhaps, like America lost its manufacturing edge, we will lose our technological savvy, too. Our old skills will leave us abandoned and lonely, like Loman and Clay. Globalism is knocking the world’s king – America – off it’s capitalistic throne. For Clay to not end up like Loman, he must adjust to the new world order.

All that is awesome. However, I kept flashing back to the famous Death of a Salesman line: “Attention must be paid.” Does it? Does Clay deserve our attention?

Eggars seems to think so. (Or why would he write the book)? However, Eggars does something so wrongheaded that he hinders his protagonist’s ability to capture our hearts and build empathy. Eggars tells the story in third person. This choice creates distance and drains the story of its ability to affect us. Even though there is not a single page of this story that Clay isn’t on – not a single moment Clay isn’t living through – Eggars chooses to talk about Clay in a dispassionate, omnipotent voice instead of truly getting into his protagonist’s heart and head.

Eggars reminded me of why I dislike another author, Don DeLillo – all the cold reporting. I was frustrated, because I wasn’t deeply invested in Clay, despite the interesting economic and cultural comments Eggars was making. Instead, the story was more like a news report than a novel. I understood, but the chilly approach made me care less than I could have.

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