Did you ever wish you could get straight answers from some people that you felt had had a great influence in your life … especially a negative one? Say if you could isolate them, and, one at a time, have privacy with them, and have a compelling way of making them tell the truth about their feelings, their motives, and their actions …
Being normally an e-reader nowadays, I don’t visit my local library as much as I used to. (I say this with a bit of sadness.) When I do visit, I like to graze around the “recently arrived” section for new reading ideas. A couple of weeks ago, this paid off when I came upon Dave Eggers’ newest (2014) novel with the offbeat title Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? I had never read Eggers before, but had heard of his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
As is my custom, I will not spoil your reading enjoyment by giving away too much of the plot, so fear not! But when Your Fathers opens, we are in a barracks at a decommissioned and deserted military base on the Pacific, where Thomas (the protagonist) has chained an astronaut to a post. The astronaut, who was chloroformed and wakes up in this place, is understandably afraid for his life; but Thomas (who has apparently never committed anything like this kind of criminal act before) just seems to want to have a conversation. It turns out that these two men were classmates. The astronaut is a famous figure, but was nevertheless thwarted in his ambition to ride on the Space Shuttle by the termination of that program. Thomas wants to know how the astronaut is able to come to terms (if he is) with the non-fulfillment of his long-term desire.
Thomas also brings other “guests” to this desolate location; they similarly find themselves chained after waking from being anesthetized. Each guest is in a separate barracks, and as the chapters progress, we move from one to the next. Thomas is a young-ish guy who feels (as he imagines the astronaut feels), that his ambitions have been thwarted and that his life is ridden with frustration and disappointment, through no fault of his own. He sees himself as setting up to reach a target, and then finding that “the target was moved” due to the vagaries of our uncaring society.
One of the chained guests is a congressman; Thomas probes to see how much his (Thomas’) life could have been improved by more humane legislative practices. Perhaps Thomas blames the system too much for his own inadequacies? But then there is another guest, a policeman who was instrumental in a tragic incident involving a mentally unstable Asian-American man who was Thomas’s close friend. (The friend provides the origin for the book’s quirky title.) Did the police have to act as they did? Or was it a case of police misconduct, and a subsequent cover-up? Both sides of the story are given; any conclusions are left to the reader.
There is a love interest (of a certain kind) in the book as well. On one of his beach walks, Thomas encounters an attractive female and idealizes her into the kind of romantic object he has always been looking for. Can he get her to buy into his rosy vision?
This is an unusual novel, in that the entire book is made up of dialogue. (A la James Joyce, the speech is demarcated not by quotation marks but by dashes, giving it somehow a special flavor.) It also takes place in confined locations, so it is natural to think that it could have been not a novel, but a play. Would a play have worked as well? Or even better? I’m not sure. As is my wont, I have not read any reviews before doing my writeup, but will do so in the near future, and am curious what other people think about this issue in particular … and about the book in general.
In this novel there is humor, drama, and suspense (what will Thomas do with his chain-ees?) How much is Thomas the helpless victim of an uncaring, even criminal society? How much could he have materially improved his own lot by taking more responsibility for himself? Let the reader decide. I recommend this book!