6.28.2006

How We Are Hungry

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When someone asks me what kind of stuff I read, I'm always at a loss. If I say "meta-fiction" or "post-modern literature", that just leads to more confusion. If I say "literary fiction", then I sound like an elitist asshole, and as you know, I would NEVER want to come across as an elitist prick.

The stuff I read tends to be somewhat sarcastic and ironic. The weakness is that the authors I like the most (George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers) often try too hard to be clever , and therefore stuff comes across clunk and forced.

Upon starting How We Are Hungry, a collection of short stories by Dave Eggers, I immediately thought this was going to be the case. For example, one of the stories is called "There Are Some Things He Should Keep To Himself". The story consists of four blank pages. Whoa dude! How arty farty and clever, bro! I was also immediately hit with sentences like this:
How did she kiss him? Desperately, pulling and pushing, like a woman trying to get to the bottom of a deep pool.
Uh, wha? You're trying waaaay too hard to be descriptive there, Dave. Not working.

Luckily, Eggers gets his sea legs pretty quickly, and the stories become immenesly readable and enjoyable. In a way, How We Are Hungry is travel fiction, with stories told from Costa Rica, Scotland, Egypt, Bakersfield (!?), and Mount Kilamanjaro in Tanzania. For every longer story, there's a really short one consisting of two to three pages, which feel like commercial breaks between the longer stories.

There aren't any grand themes in most of the stories. Three of the stories carry a common theme, the relationship between longtime friends of the opposite sex, and how the urge to act upon the underlying sexual tension in male-female friendships can compromise those friendships. We've certainly all been there and done that before.

The best story is saved for last. It's a semi-goofy story that actually got me a little verclempt. It's called "After I Was Thrown In The River And Before I Drowned". The story is told by a dog who, along with some other dogs in the neighborhood, regularly venture out into the woods to race each other, while squirrels watch and make sarcastic comments. Sounds dumb, but it's actually quite meloncholy. After unfortunate accident, the dog narrator goes to heaven, where, in the closing lines of the book, he reports:
The one big surprise is that as it turns out, God is the sun. It makes sense, if you think about it. Why we didn't see it sooner, I cannot say. Every day the sun was right there burning, our and other planets hovering around it, always apologizing, and we didn't think it was God. Why would there be a God and also a sun? Of course God is the sun.

Everyone in the life before was cranky, I think, because they just wanted to know.
Beautiful. That's what I read. That's why I read.

Anyways, I'm not a reviewer, I just play one on my blog. So suffice to say that after brief reservations, I really enjoyed the stories in How We Are Hungry, and I can confidently recommend that you pick it up if you want to try something new.
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