17 February 2011

Review: You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers

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.

Published by Random House / Vintage, 2003
ISBN-13: 9781400033546
YTD: 20
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: C
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Lenore Appelhans 2/17/11, 8:25 AM  

I loved the concept of this one, but not the execution. I hate to say it, but Eggers made travel sound BORING. And that's a real sin in my book.

Karen 2/17/11, 8:33 AM  

I reviewed the book here: http://verbatim.blogs.com/verbatim/2004/08/book_review.html
I was mostly CONFUSED by the middle section -- please read my review and let me know whether the audio version was the same version as the book I read.

Shelly B 2/17/11, 8:38 AM  

I appreciate your honesty. Some books just aren't good matches for us. I'm glad you stuck with the audio to give us your true opinion, but I can see how you would have put the print version down.

Melissa (Avid Reader) 2/17/11, 10:05 AM  

I have grown to love Eggers work and am a huge fan... and I hated this book. So, I hope that you aren't deterred by this one. I think it was just a combination of a good idea that never quite came together and the fact that he was an inexperienced writer. I think he's done a wonderful job with later works, especially those based on nonfiction stories (Zeitoun and What is the What). Great review, I love your honest comments.

Sandy Nawrot 2/17/11, 11:14 AM  

Yikes, not much good going on with this one. I do agree that sometimes intolerable books become tolerable with audio. Perfect proof is one I just finished called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. No way I would have been able to finish this one in print. Like watching paint dry. Audio can be akin to force-feeding. No matter how bad it can get, it just keeps going.

Dorte H 2/17/11, 11:57 AM  

Men who *should* be adults but behave like teenagers? I have had enough of that in my classes.

bermudaonion 2/17/11, 1:51 PM  

I don't like a lot of internal rants in my books either, so this might not be for me. I've read one of Eggers books and found is work to be a little long winded.

Zibilee 2/17/11, 2:13 PM  

I also find Eggers to be long-winded and well, sort of boring and full of himself, so I doubt I would read this one. I have read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and it didn't go down so smoothly for me. I do want to read his other book though.

Julie P. 2/17/11, 3:03 PM  

I fear that I would have the exact same reaction.

Rebecca Rasmussen 2/18/11, 9:21 AM  

I haven't read this one, but I did read Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which I thought was good but not fabulous.

Jenners 2/18/11, 10:14 PM  

Dave Eggers is an interesting writer that I just can't pin down. This sounds more like the Eggers I knew before I read "Zeitoun," which was a totally different book (and maybe more to your liking).

Anonymous,  2/18/11, 11:10 PM  

I had a tough time with this one. And then after I finished it I learned there was another version with Hand's thoughts...and that wasn't the version I read. So I'm mad at Eggers for messing with his book and my head, and I can't quite bring myself to read any of his other books.

Beth F 2/19/11, 6:40 AM  

@softdrink: Yes, I learned that from Karen's review. That just kills me. Plus because I listened to the audio, I didn't even get visuals. I can't bring myself to read the other version with Hand's views. In fact, despite other comments here, I really don't see me picking up a Eggers book again.

BookGeek 2/19/11, 2:49 PM  

While the title is intriguing, I don't know if this would be the book for me either. I have a hard time when I feel like a character hasn't grown a lot, even after all the life changing experiences. Although it would be an interesting read if visuals and maps helped me move along in the narrative. Thanks for the review!

Laura @ I'm Booking It 2/19/11, 3:42 PM  

I'm not a huge Eggers fan. All three of his books that I read missed the mark for me-- I didn't dislike them, and could appreciate aspects of them. I won't hurry to pick this one up, but the others I've read were all for book club, and I think I'm in the minority on not loving his books.

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