by Kate Holford
When I read it aloud I didn’t stumble. I’d floundered finding a succinct enough quote thirty seconds before, but now I was sure-tongued and practiced. I’d fanned through the pages attempting to recall the pacing of the plot, looking as I walked round the counter for a suitable length, some succinctly poised dramatic frame of a line or two, in support of my earlier declaration that I idolised the author.
—Son, did you really kidnap me to talk about the Space Shuttle?
—Kev said he was going to be an astronaut, and he did everything he was asked to do to become one. But now it means nothing. That just seems like the worst kind of thing, to tell a generation or two that the finish line is here, that the requirements to get there are this and this and this, but then, just as we get there, you move the finish line.
Yes, I know, I say: I told you so. We high five, me and my colleague – the witness to the reading. It’s great stuff, I say. He’s a god – I say this in half-jest, whilst my witness smiles widely and nods. Generally, agreement emanates. He gets it all so right, right? in his characters, in his observations. Read it, read it, let him say things wise to you. Yes, yes.
We’re in the business of talking books, of talking cultural idols – the latter a symptom of our youth. We’re young, you see, and this person speaks for us. The shared appreciation makes me warm up inside, like I win out praise from the act of noticing it. I grin. I like to win.
Someone calls my name, or rings a bell, and I leave to manage something, be ambitious. The book leans on top of the pile. The quote sits back in its orderly place as the pages rest.
The reason I settle on this particular section of dialogue when I flick through the pages is three fold. One, because it fits that need for plot, for description of the story itself. An indicator – as if I was choosing the text for the jacket. Secondly, though – and more importantly – because in Eggers’ character Thomas we see, without need for anything more than these three lines, someone who is unable to accept the reality of his economic, cultural, social situation. All merges into the same thing, all a mess and not enough. What is more, he sees himself as a representative of his generation – their spokesperson; we think of him as crazy. And so thirdly, I pick the quote because it’s sort of funny: Thomas has lost the plot.
We navigate our way these days, through a narrative fit for fiction (although we exist in front of it, somehow – aware as it folds out and aware that it’s in front of us but we can see the strings, see the set screens shifting in the wings.) We navigate with an inability to learn quickly enough or be informed enough or to have seen enough to really know what is best to do. And all we can settle on, us twenty-somethings in our prime, simultaneously trapped within our best years to succeed by our lack of experience, is that the absurdity is getting less and less funny; it’s on the wane.
I consider which character in this book is the one who speaks for me. I am unaware, as I manage to not stumble over the lines I read, if I am Thomas, or I am The Man calling me son.
I cannot recall the moment when I learned that anger never wins over anything – but still I do know this, and so I think of myself as The Man talking down, a victim of the younger person’s drama. But I double-take, because I face a conundrum: I am Thomas too, I think. I want more, to take more and for it to be there for the taking. Call in that promise from a while back. And I am Kev, for that matter (poor Kev) duped and now destined for the desk job.
As I walk off I leave the book behind, in its readiness for sharing. Find myself in thirty seconds’ time at my desk, listening to the seconds tick by as I work. Hard. And for The Man, as it happens.
Quote taken from Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? By Dave Eggers, 2014