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Literary Glance: Heroes of the Frontier by David Eggers

June 9, 2017

If you judge Dave Eggers by the movies based on his books, the last year has been rough.  Both The Circle and Hologram for the King bombed at the theaters.  But that’s not a fair way to judge authors.  Even Stephen King had a rough patch of crappy movies based on his books back in the 1980’s, and he seems to be doing okay.

I’m not sure if Dave Eggers’s latest novel Heroes of the Frontier would make a good movie or not.  So far it has a lot of driving, a lot of descriptions of Alaska, and a lot of thinking.

Sometimes too much thinking is bad.  During a stream of consciousness moment, characters might have a thought that’s meant to be universal but it only applies to that character (or the author).  In this case, early in Chapter I, the narrator is with her family at a zoo and thinks:

“This was not so bad.  But it was sad like any zoo is sad, a place where no one really wants to be.  The humans feel guilty about being there at all, crushed by thoughts of capture and captivity and bad food and drugs and fences.  And the animals barely move.”

This is what I call a false observation.  I like zoos, and I know other people like zoos as well.  It’s relaxing to walk around a bunch of loafing animals.  On a nice day, I’d rather walk around a zoo than watch a nature show where animals tear each other apart.  On the other hand, I worry a little bit about people who are too fascinated by animals devouring each other on television.  When you break the thought down, the observation becomes more false (for me).

“But it was sad like any zoo is sad, a place where no one really wants to be.”

I don’t recall seeing a bunch of sad faces at the zoo (except at the gift store, where kids throw fits when parents say no).  Kids run around, laughing and pointing; parents get mad, but it’s usually temporary.  Maybe it’s sad for some of the animals and for people who are opposed to the concept of zoos.

“The humans feel guilty about being there at all, crushed by thoughts of capture and captivity…”

“Crushed” might be overdoing it a little bit.  The thought might occur to us, but the animals are also being spared the fate of the average Discovery Channel subject.

“…bad food and drugs and fences.”

That sounds like the average professional sporting event.

“And the animals barely move.”

You just have to get there at the right time.

A false observation like this excerpt makes me distrust either the narrator or the author, but I haven’t read far enough into the novel to decide which one.  The narrator might not be trustworthy because she’s driving around Alaska with her young kids in a run-down RV.  Whatever her reasons behind this situation, her decision-making skills might not be the best.  She might not like zoos, but she is in not in the frame of mind to decide whether or not everybody dislikes zoos.

Maybe the narrator is supposed to be reliable and it’s the author who is at fault.  Maybe the author truly believes everybody hates zoos and he’s falsely projecting his own feelings on characters.  Maybe I’ll figure that out as I read further into the book.

If you like the kind of stream of consciousness writing from this example, you’ll probably enjoy Heroes of the Frontier.  If you think that this writing style makes a book dull and plodding, maybe this novel won’t be your thing.  Either way, if they make a movie out of it, I hope they do a better job with it than they’ve done with Dave Eggers’s previous books.

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