7. “How We Are Hungry,” Dave Eggers

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dave Eggers is a fucking master of titles. Will you check this shit out?

– “Another”
– “What it means when a crowd in a faraway nation takes a soldier representing your own nation, shoots him, drags him from his vehicle and then mutilates him in the dust”
– “The only meaning of the oil-wet water”
– “On wanting to have three walls up before she gets home”
– “Climbing to the window, pretending to dance”
– “She waits, seething, blooming”
– “Quiet”
– “Your mother and I”
– “Naveed ”
– “Notes for a story of a man who will not die alone”
– “About the man who began flying after meeting her”
– “Up the mountain coming down slowly”
– “There are some things he should keep to himself”
– “When they learned to yelp”
– “After I was thrown in the river and before I drowned”

He barely needs to write the story after that. And, in fact, in “There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself,” he doesn’t. The story is six blank pages. The clever bastard.

I thought about how to say this next bit the whole time I was brushing my teeth– and I brush my teeth for the full two minutes, which is, you may not realize, a long time when all you are doing is moving a toothbrush in small circles and trying (and in my case, failing) to dribble toothpaste foam on yourself. Eggers’ stories never really feel finished. Not in a bad way (like can be said of many of Raymond Carvers’ exercises in oddly-paced, ennui-soaked frustration), but instead they just seem to understand that real people’s stories go on even after their part in them is done. So of course these little character sketches would never seem done. Though all of his characters seem to have the same sort of flat affect, I liked it because I am at the same crappy point in my life when nothing is wrong, and I’m too apathetic to even call this depression, and also too apathetic to panic that this universal suckitude is just the way life is sometimes. Oh wait. Found some panic.

I’ll also add that the proceeds from this book go to 826 Valencia, which is a writing workshop Eggers co-founded. Which just makes me think he is a stand-up, though emotionally manipulative guy.

Page count: 224
Page total: 1,409

Quotes follow!

From “Quiet”:

There were two white sheep they the side of the road. They were speaking to the dead black sheep. They made tentative steps towar the middle [of the road], where the black one’s body lay. They wanted the dead one to get up and get going.
Erin and I both said Oh my G-d, Oh my G-d, look at that. I thought, for the first time in my life, that the known science of the world was going to be changed by something I had whitnessed. This communication between sheep, this conizance of mortality, was surely unaccounted for. […]
The two sheep looked toward the car and spoke to Erin and me. How could you? They brayed at the car. Don’t you have enough?.

Hours later, the cat was asleep, and Erin lay next to it, her eyes half-closed. There was purring. I felt content. Why does it give so much comfort to be responsible for someone’s sleep? We all– don’t we?– want creatures sleeping in our homes while we walk about, turning off lights. I wanted this now. (114)

“Your Mother and I”:

I guess a lot of what we did– what made so much of this possible– was eliminate the bipolar nature of so much of what passed for debate in those days. So often, the media would take even the most logical idea, like private funding for all sports stadiums or having colleges require forty hours of community service to graduate, and make it seem like there was two equally powerful sides of the argument, which was so rarely the case. A logical fallacy, is what that is. So we jsut go them to keep things in perspective a bit, not make everyone so crazy, polarizing every last debate. I mean, there was a time when you couldn’t get a lightbulb changed becase the press would find a way to quote the sole lunatic in the world who didn’t want the lightbulb replaced. So we sat them all down and we said, “Listen, we all want to have progress, we all want a world for the grandkids and all. We know we’re gonna need better gas mileage on the cars, and that all the toddlers are gonna need Head Start, and we’re gonna need weekly parades through every town and city to keep morale up, and we’ll have ot get rid of Three Strikes and mandatory minimums and the execution of retarded prisoners– and that it all had to happen sooner or later, so don’t go blowing opposition to any of it out of proportion. Don’t go getting everyone inflamed.” Honestly, when lynchings were originally outlawed, you cna bet the newspapers made it seem like there was some real validity to the pro-lynching side of things. YOu can be sure that the third paragraph of any article would have said “not everyone is happy about the anti-lynching legislation. We spoke to a local resident who is not at all happy about it…” Anyway, we sat everyone down, served some onion dip, and in a couple hours your mother and I straightened all that out. (120-121)

“When They Learned to Yelp”

They were older than most when the learned to yelp. Most people, of most generations, in most of the world’s nations, learn to yelp at a young age. Some are born yelping, others learn it when they learn their mother tongue. Yelping, as they say, comes with the territory. But these people, the ones we’re talking about– born in the United States at a certain time– they had not yet learned to yelp.

To yelp: open your mouth. Convulse your stomach, as you would before a belch, or before vomiting. Not form a world, a thousand words, but emit none. In place of the words you might attempt, make a sound. The sound is a combination of three sounds. Each of these sounds represents a third of your yelp.
First: there is the shrieking sound you might make if you hit your head on the bottom edge of an open kitchen-cabinet door. It is sudden, high-pitched, angry. It speaks of the stupidity of the pain.
Second: there is a whining aspect. Imagine that you have not slept for many days, and after those many days, you are told to run over that hill yonder and back. When you return, you are punched in the sternum. You ask for mercy. They laugh and kill your dog. This is exhaustion.
Third: the last factor in your yelp is the moan. The moan is shock in the face of a landslide. Brutality. A flood. Machetes. This portion of your yelp says that you did not think you could be surprised or overwhelmed, but you have been proven wrong. […]
Yelping cannot be practiced or forced. Yelping will come only when provoked.

The yelp is efficient. The yelp says a great deal with great economy. The words, questions and statements which are encompassed in one quick yelp: Fuck! Shit! Piss! How could you? How could you? How do your hands do such things? I won’t believe it. Stop it now. Please stop it now. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Motherfuckers! Animals! That poor man. Those poor women. Look at her arms. Look at his face. I cannot believe it. I will not believe it. Those bastards. Those motherfucking bastards. This is not how it should be. Nothing should ever be like this. Goddamn all this. I give up. No, I will fight. No I will give up. No I will fight.

Those who have yelped have had their floor removed from them. The floor falls away and the yelper descends between 300 and 1500 feet, down a narrow shaft. Then the yelper must make his or her way back again, to the light.

Yelping can be done on cloudless days. Yelping can be done in any season. In any place. People yelped in beautiful Sarajevo. People yelped on the sugarwhite beaches of Haiti.
Yelping, though, can also be done– is very often done– far from the source of its yelping. John Lundgren of Pittsfield, massachusetts, reports having yelped while sitting in the bleachers at his neice’s feild hockey game; the man beside him had said, “Can you believe what happened?” and when John heard what had happened, he yelped. Abby Peterson of Cliffside, Idaho, reports yelping while braiding her daughter’s hair as they watched the news. She was stroking her daughter’s smooth rust-colored strands when she saw something on the television and with her hands on her daughter’s head, she yelped. Chinaka Hodge of Oakland remembers being at the library, sitting at a white computer, the carpet beneath her feet quiet and blue. On the screen, when she sat down, was a short grainy film that she watched despite knowing she should not watch it. She fell 720 feet and is now, many months later, still making her way back to the surface.

And THEN, after THAT ONE, he goes into “After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned,” which I have discussed before on this blog and will not add anything to, other than to say that I occasionally consider getting a tattoo that says “Damn, yeah.” I should also mention that I read the last two stories on the train. ON THE TRAIN, PEOPLE. What is it with me getting my heart broken on the train?

  1. Vikky
    December 23, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I read “You Shall Know Our Velocity!” because it was on the bookshelf in Grafton and I wanted to fucking kill people when it was over. IT WAS HORRIBLE. WHAT THE FUCK, DAVE EGGERS, MCSWEENEY’S IS SO ENJOYABLE.
    Ugh. I hated that book.

  2. April 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm

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