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You Shall Know Our Velocity

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You Shall Know Our Velocity (YSKOV) by Dave Eggers, intrigued me. It is full of deep thoughts, interwoven themes and psychological questions about the meaning of life, death and relationships – but interestingly, is written in an easy going, road trip style that surprisingly holds many comic moments.

The first sentence:

“Everything within takes place after Jack died and before my mom and I drowned in a burning ferry in the cool Tannin-tinted Guaviare River, in East Central Colombia, with forty-two locals we hadn’t yet met.”

So from the beginning, it’s clear that heavy things will ensue.

A rambling yet engrossing flow of prose and smooth quick passages of dialogue mark YSKOV as a unique novel, and one that will leave you with an appreciation of Egger’s creativity and novel writing techniques. YSKOV is reminiscent of “On the Road,” in some aspects (minus the drugs), and if you enjoyed that book, then you will probably enjoy this story of two friends traveling around the globe at a whirlwind pace. Will, the main character and book’s narrator, doesn’t explain much to the reader regarding what’s happening. Essentially what readers learn in the first few pages is that Will has in his possession about $40,000 that he wants to get rid of, so he takes a week off from work and plans to travel around the world, giving the money away as he goes. His good friend Hand agrees to go with him. And that’s about it for the plot. The book focuses on their week abroad, and when, how and why they give away the money. The reader learns where the money came from but is only given hints about why Will wants to be rid of it and why he chooses to give it away in the manner that he does. More important to the story is Will’s coping with Jack’s recent death, how he manages to deal with it, and how that ties in to plot. Will finds/reveals no clear answers to his personal dilemmas by the books’ conclusion…or then again, maybe he does.

YSKOV is written in a freshly original manner. Some of my favorite authors include drawings and/or handwriting in their books (Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut); Dave Eggers also employs this stand-apart technique. Various visuals, such as a photo of the note that Hand attaches to wads of money, are sprinkled throughout the book. These provide an unexpected form of comic relief while making the story and characters more concrete in the mind of the reader. Eggers includes much dialogue both in internal and external forms. The reader learns the most about Will from the internal dialogue that he has with himself, cleverly written by Eggers. In these passages, Will argues in his head with other people. I.e. In response to his own internal comments, Will supplies the other person’s half of the dialogue. For example, in this excerpt, Will engages in and explains his internal thought patterns:

Passing a middle-aged couple in matching jackets:
—-You two need to change.
—-What? Why? The middle aged couple said, to my head, in my head.
—-Because you are wearing the same jacket.
—-We bought them on vacation in Newport.
—-You must be hidden from view.
—-The jackets are nice.
—-They are not nice. Think of the children.
I argued with strangers constantly, though only in my cloudy skull, while always I adopted this hollow admonishing tone –my grandmother’s I guess –which even I couldn’t stand. The silent though decisive discussions were a hobby of my mind, debating people I knew or passed on the road while driving:

—-You, driving the Lexus.
—-Me?
—-Yes, you. You paid too much.
—-What?
—-You paid too much and your soul is soiled.
—-You are right. I have failed but will repent.
It helped me work through problems, solving things, reaching conclusions final, edifying and even, occasionally, mutually agreeable.
—-You, on the motorcycle.
—-Yes.
—-It’s only a matter of time.
—-I know.

These passages provide some comic relief and will ring a bell with many readers. All people engage in this sort of silent judgment to an extent, which makes it easy for the reader to identify with the main character, feel a common bond with him, and also become familiarized with how Will will be communicating aspects of himself to the reader. Will uses this technique when thinking about his friend Jack. According to Will, Jack was killed in an automobile accident several weeks before the action in the story occurs. Throughout the novel, Will is constantly reminded of and tries to reconcile the fact that Jack is dead and he and Hand are still alive. The internal debate tears Will apart and makes it hard for him to heal and move on. The reader will empathize with Will as he tries to make sense of a senseless death, an act that most of us have had to struggle with. We will also identify with Will’s sense of urgency to GO; for when he is busy, distracted and moving he feels at his best and is granted temporary respite from his grief.

I found that the paperback version of this novel (the version I am reviewing) was actually re-named Sacrament when published (before being changed back to YSKOV), and contains a major addition not included in the original hardback. This startling addition comes in about two-thirds of the way through the book, and will make the reader reconsider everything that has come before and all that follows. To say anymore would ruin the surprise and emotional response that one will experience as they read.

Dave Eggers is renowned for his fresh, surprising, and unconventional style of writing. YSKOV is not a traditional novel….the author was not interested in simply telling a story, but in telling the story behind the story. This is a book about people…how they feel, what they think, how they act, how they interact and how they respond to Life. He wants the reader to not only connect to his characters and empathize with their situations, but to also thoroughly enjoy the story that unfolds. In most books dealing with the theme of death, the reader will be treated to a grim tear jerker, the goal being to make him appreciate life and ponder his personal experiences in a new light. In this story, we are asked to ponder Will’s pondering. There are no answers provided in this novel, no morals, no light is shed on the secrets of healing or Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. I enjoyed this book, it was sad, funny and deep, with a unique storyline that was easy to read. My overall impression of the point of YSKOV? – Grief is a heavy, heavy thing that saturates, destroys, and changes a person…. but there is always good to be found, even if one has to make it happen himself.

***All quotes taken from You Shall Know Our Velocity, by Dave Eggers, published by Vintage Books, copyright 2002.

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About Michelle Poole

  • Bryce Eddings

    Listed at Advance

  • Eric Olsen

    super job Michelle, very good sense of the book – thanks and welcome!

  • Kees Kapteyn

    Michelle! I have been reading this book for the second time just as you posted this review. I ablosultely love this book. It has earned a place next to “On the Road”, “Salvage King, Ya!” and “Generation X”. I see Dave Eggers as a pioneer in the movement to shake the basis of fiction literature, of which I hope to soon be a part of. Thank you for that excellent review!