In the aura of grief following the tragic loss of their childhood friend, Will and Hand feel the need for action. Between plots of revenge against the truck driver who caused the fatal accident, the young men hatch a plan to fly around the world giving away $80,000 to the needy or deserving -- all within the one week Hand can take off from work.
Dave Eggers's You Shall Know Our Velocity is difficult to pin down. Will and Hand are in their late twenties, yet much of their behavior is reminiscent of fourteen-year-olds: not so much with their wild scheme to give away Will's windfall but in their impulsiveness and cluelessness.
A good bit of the novel takes place within Will's head. He conducts elaborate conversations with himself, with strangers he sees on the streets, with their dead friend Jack, and even with Hand. Sometimes the voices in Will's head drive him crazy; sometimes they help him see more clearly. Hand, however, may not have enough in his head. Although he seems to have an unending ability to recite obscure (and questionable) facts on almost any subject, he proves to be unreliable and reckless.
The men's goal of circumnavigating the globe and giving away all the money is met with setbacks before they even leave Chicago. Each reacts differently to change, unexpected events, and the realities of life outside the United States. By week's end, Will and Hand have had a lifetime of adventures, but we wonder how much they may have healed, learned, or grown.
My feelings about You Shall Know Our Velocity are strongly influenced by the fact that I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books, 11 hr, 23 min), read by Dion Graham. Graham's narration is brilliant and emotional. If I had read the novel, I'm not sure I would have finished; I suspect I would have been bored by Will's long internal rants. Graham's expressive performance helped me stick with it.
I was surprised to learn that the bound book is amply illustrated with notes, maps, photographs, and more. I am very sorry to have missed out on the visuals and wonder if they may have helped me better appreciate the novel.
In the end I was left with the feeling that You Shall Know Our Velocity was simply not a novel for me. There was nothing inherently wrong with the book, and I didn't dislike it. It just wasn't a particularly good match. If I were to recommend the novel, I think I would suggest listening to Graham but having a print edition nearby to enjoy the visual material (which I have not seen).
There is an excellent online reading group guide. I was unable to find an author website. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile magazine.
These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Random House / Vintage, 2003
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)