Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Hologram for the King: a belated book club review

In my previous exposure to Dave Eggers (namely A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) I laughed and loved and sighed from the publication information through all 900 or so pages of the tome. I was therefore pretty excited when someone selected Eggers' novel A Hologram for the King for book club. And while the novel is vastly different from Eggers' much longer memoir (why does a youngish man have such a lengthy memoir?), I still found it intensely satisfying, engaging, whimsical, and thought-provoking. 

Hologram will not be to every reader's liking, but what book is? I relish strong characters, deftly-drawn scenery and clever word play, and Eggers delivers these three things big time. What he lacks (although I hardly missed it) is a strong plot. The plot is mainly about waiting, but that slow-moving train gives so much room for the main character, Alan Clay, to do a slow resolve into mid-life obscurity that any more active plot would be mis-matched. 

Alan Clay, one time high-flying Schwinn sales man to the world, is the prototypical anti-hero. He fears disappointing his young adult daughter with the reality of his fallibility (what parent amongst us doesn't live with that fear!), he lives with the daily impact of poor choices optimistically made (welcome to my life), and he clings desperately to some thought that things can still turn out all right, if only. If only. 

I might be making this all sound depressing, but I found charm and comfort in Alan's predicaments. His obsession with the lump on his neck (serious illness would solve a lot of problems), his awkwardness with the opposite sex (if you're 50ish and dating, no doubt you feel Alan's pain), his aimless days passed with just a thin covering of purpose. I spent much of the book smiling ruefully and thinking, thank the bright heat of the sun I'm not the only one. 

If you're all about fast-moving plots, this is not the read for you. But if you want to spend a few hours with someone who needs a little saving, and to have his story sweetly shared, Alan Clay's your man.

So, this was actually the book club selection from February 2015, when I was volunteering in Jamaica. I had planned to continue to participate in book club remotely, but it just didn't work. Novels are next to impossible to find in Jamaica, and for some reason it never worked for me to Skype in to meetings, so I just gave up after the first couple months.

Still, since I've been gathering the missing books I thought I'd try to do some catching up while I have some extra time. I do remember people saying they thought it was dreadfully slow, but ... I wasn't here so I can't report out on any more than that. 

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