Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers

By Jason McDonald

Your Fathers… is part play, part philosophy, part non-fiction analysis that sticks in your crawl like chewing mental taffy. It’s one of those books where you wish everyone you know would read it just so that you could unload your thoughts onto your loved ones instead of tossing random questions at your friends who haven’t read it and just kind of wished that you would shut up about it.

The story is told entirely through dialogue, through the questions and musings of Thomas, a possibly mentally disturbed 20-something who kidnaps several people and drags them off to an abandoned military base in order to pepper them questions. This is all in an effort to find some root of truth for Thomas, and possibly solve his own coming of age riddle and for Eggers to ask who are we, where are we going, and how do we get there?

The first person that he kidnaps is a former classmate and current astronaut who once told Thomas that his dream was to ride the space shuttle, which had recently been decommissioned and is now on tour like a useless relic. In Thomas’ mind this is an example of overachiever who followed the American dream and was shafted right at the gates and this is what American has become. How did the country that first made it to the moon become a country that now hitches rides to space on Russian rockets? How did we as a people within the framework of a government let this happen?

This line of inquiry leads to the second person he kidnaps, a retired congressman and Vietnam veteran. But what truth can a retired congressman bring to an unstable man looking for bold answers in the face of a nuanced reality. And that’s the crux. The answers to Thomas’ questions are unsatisfactory because they’re malleable depending on the perception. It’s an onion with multiple layers and the layers are peeled away with every person he kidnaps. Along with the astronaut and congressman, he kidnaps his former pedophile math teacher, a cop who killed his best friend in a stand-off, and his mother, all of whom have their own perspective of life and events that have affected Thomas.

The gel that holds the book together and also acts as that mental taffy, is the devil’s advocate. Eggers argues mightily as the advocate from a seemingly bad mother’s perspective and the possibly bad cop’s perspective, and even the pedophile teacher’s perspective. Can we sympathize with them? Maybe not, but we can at least understand that the characters are multilayered and Eggers dilutes our initial predisposition. This is attributed to his ability to avoid the character questions of right and wrong and swim in the gray. The book is short and fast read that will linger longer than it can be absorbed. It’s a quality read, so pick it up, read it, and annoy your friends till they do the same.

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