As far as American Novelists go, San Franciscan Dave Eggers takes the cake as one of the countries best. Breaking out with his memoir, A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, which won best book of the year in 2000 at the Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. His first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, is still my favorite among his many works including What is the What, the autobiography of Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng, and more recently The Circle, set around a tech worker Mae whose company stretches the boundaries of privacy on social media to the extreme.
In his 2002 novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, we follow two close friends, Will and Hand, shortly after a tragic death. They’re armed with plane tickets, visas, and $80,000 they plan to give away alleviating poverty in a few third world countries. They plan to travel around the world in a week but when plans go awry Will’s dream of going to the pyramid at Cheops slowly dies as they move from Senegal, to Morroco, to Estonia, and Latvia. Through their misadventures, readers seem to experience the dying dreams of travel, philanthropy, and globalization. Both comedy and action surface but the entire story hangs on the bandages wrapped around the protagonists face from a beating at a storage facility, a wound latter attributed to Hand who had abandoned Will with the possessions of their dead friend Jack. Has this whole trip been a way of running from their friend’s untimely demise? Through their outrageous methods of alieving themselves of the money Eggers satirizes the sad attempts at charity so common when westerners visit the third world; they are incompetent, naive, broken, and altogether human.
There are few names in this day and age that strike awe into the hearts readers like Huraki Murakami, a Japanese author widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Known for his surrealist writings Murakami began his career as an author as little more than a cult novelist, however, with his releases of Norwegian Wood and the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle he’s remained a transpacific treasure of high-end literature. His 2004 novel, After Dark, takes place over the course of a single night in a seedy district in downtown Tokyo where we follow Mari, 19, as she becomes entangled as a translator for a Chinese prostitute injured in one of the city’s love hotels.
Murakami’s aesthetics loom, rife with multicultural influences as we’re introduced to Miri as she sits alone at a Denny’s planning to spend the night there when Takahashi, a college trombonist, recognizes her and claims to know her sister Eri. Punctuating the downtown crime drama unfolding with Mari, Takahashi, and the hotel owner Kaoru; Mari’s sister sleeps in surreal, intercalary chapters where the line between fantasy and reality breaks at the surface of her TV screen. There is something slightly psychopathic about all of the characters and Murakami uses his ambiguity to keep the reader on edge throughout. Suspense held my eyes to the page from chapter to chapter where intriguing scenes full of table talk, anecdotes, and philosophical dialogue never truly revealed the intentions of any specific character, and perhaps more intriguingly the hero or heroine seems absent from the proceedings. The golden girl, Eri, lies perpetually in sleep trapped in her dreams behind the glass screen of the unplugged television. Instead, of any real answers what we’re left with is the dissipation of purpose toward the collective entity something the author represents well in the inescapable systems of modern day life; the city grid, legal system, and even pathways in our microchip technology remind us how interconnected humans truly are.