Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Wild Things Are Here and They Are Covered In Faux Fur

When I was in writing workshop, back in the day, someone said to me, 'Why do you insist on this pose?'  That's how I looked at Dave Eggers when he first published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
I took the book as an unreadable, post-modern disaster, full of overly-clever, but ultimately unreadable, meta-fictional catrtwheels, obfuscating the story's heartbreaking heart, which, from what I could grasp, was a staggering, heartbreaking tale, that stood on its own without Eggers' endless props and gimmicks.  Essentially, my take on the book was what my grandmother used to say about the kids with mohawks that sat outside the Nordstrom in Denver:  'Those kids are saying look at me, look at me.'  I suddenly felt old and uncool.

Naturally, not being a gatekeeper, my opinion, in the minority as it was, was thankfully dismissed.  In 2002 he followed up A Heartbreaking Work. . . with his first proper novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, which, after trying to read a page or two, caused me to toss my hands in the air and shout, 'Why do you insist on this pose?'  When he released a revised paperback, which among other riveting changes, included an exclamation mark added to the title, I swore I was done with the young literary cause-celebre.

And yet, there is something hopelessly endearing and brillant about Dave Eggers.  A man who has taken so many risks, botched so many experiments while pulling off so many others can't be anything but sincere.  His resume is so original and scattershot as to be beyond contrivance.  He's written another man's memoir disguised as a novel in What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng; he's written serious non-fiction about wrongly convicted felons, underpaid teachers, and most recently, a searing study of a good Samaritan caught up in the government's post 9-11 paranoia in the aftermath of Katrina, Zeitoun, which my blogging rival Seth has reviewed in a recent post.  He's also written short stories, collaborated on screenplays (Away We Go & Where the Wild Things Are) and produced absurd children's books with titles like Giraffes? Giraffes! & Your Disgusting Head, with his little brother Christopher, under the psuedonymns  Dr. & Mr. Doris Haggis-on-Whey. 

But Mr. Eggers has been his most creative, courageous and experimental as the driving force behind one of the best independent publishers in America, McSweeny's.  They are one of but a handful of book publishers left that have seemingly never made a decision based on the bottom line, trusting instead that the market will appreciate honest, carefully crafted and packaged, iconic work from young, daring, innovative (and sometimes unreadable!) young writers (which the market too frequently does not support).  William Vollmann, who was recently at Warwick's, said Mcsweeny's was the only publisher that had the courage to publish an UNABRIDGED seven volume edition of his reportage on violence masterpiece, Rising Up, Rising Down.  Not to mention their royalty share to Mr. Vollmann was many times more generous than the typical New York publishing house.  As an offshoot to Mcsweeny's, Eggers has also co-founded 826 Valencia, a not-for-profit which provides writing skills tutoring for 6-18 year olds, which started in San Francisco and now has seven national chapters.  Essentially the man is a saint.  Did I mention 826 Valencia also has its own Pirate Supply Store?  Does it really matter at this point what I think of his fiction?

Which brings me to Mr. Eggers's latest contribution to his canon of the bizarre: a novelization of a screenplay adaptaion of a classic children's book.  As if that weren't beguiling enough to process, Mr. Eggers's version of Where The Wild Things Are is stunningly bound in . . . a coat of faux fur.  Do I want a novel to have hair on it?  Do I need or want to read a novel covered in fur?  How do I dust it when it's been on the shelf for a year?  Do I need a flobee to maintain it?  At this point it no longer matters what I, or anyone else, thinks.  The world of books is a more vibrant, interesting place, because of Dave Eggers and his relentlessly sincere 'pose'.  So buy your fur covered book before the world of publishing becomes boring, predictable, and homogeneous, and all works of art are delivered electronically and clean shaven.

No comments:

Post a Comment