What makes a book? What makes a writer? I asked these questions, as I finished Dave Eggers’s new novel, A Hologram for the King. While Eggers is neither eloquent nor poetic, he is certainly prosaic and engaging. Reading Eggers’s first few words, I surfaced what felt moments later to find that an hour had passed—I was on page sixty. It was Eggers’s drum-beating clarity, character development, and world building that had me reaching for the corner of each crisp, white page while hiding a beaming reading light from my sleeping wife.
A Hologram for the King takes place in Saudi Arabia and centers on an aging IT consultant, Alan, who is waiting to close a deal that would bring holographic technology to the Kingdom. Alan is a good man, though lonely, and one who, ultimately, finds life transpiring beyond his control. His wife has left, his daughter is distant, and Schwinn—where he perfected salesmanship—has moved to China. He is overweight, out of shape, and has a worrying growth on his neck. A relic in a digital world, he feels like a bloodied prize fighter at the end of a thirteen-round fight, aware that he has lost. The looming question, however, is who, exactly, has Alan been fighting all these years? His ex-wife, his father, globalization—himself? The answer for both the reader and Alan is ambiguous. There are no epiphanies, no moments of clarity. Alan departs as we found him—alone and waiting. Though, in the end, there is hope for Alan, it is both subtle and buried under mounds of inaction.
Let me be clear, I like Alan—a lot. And, to be honest, this is where Eggers shines. He writes with clarity about a man who is living in transition—as the world is living in transition—from industrial to post, from iron to IT. Eggers is clear, straightforward, and unceasing in his prose. Alan is known; Alan is clear. He sold bicycles; he now sells Information Technology, holograms—illusions. And as Alan struggles to understand his new and fragile reality, he broke my heart. Why? Because I wanted him to succeed, to finalize his contract with the King. I wanted him to connect with his daughter, to find meaning. I wanted him to change. I wanted him to accomplish something—anything.