In this collection, Eggers (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
) is obviously straddling the line between being a writerand a very talented one at thatand being the spokesman for the new age of self-conscious writing. Reviewers are unanimously unhappy with a few of his literary pranks here. "There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself," for example, offers up five blank pages. But when Eggers throws off our expectations and starts writing, he shines. His longer stories are original, witty, and truthful. As his characters search for transcendence, Eggers and his readers are right there with them.
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In his first collection of short stories, Eggers shows himself to be, well, serious. Gone is the charming, smirky, self-conscious narrative voice that helped make A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
(1999) so popular. Aside from the story "There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself," which consists of five blank pages, these short stories are unrelentingly sincere--sometimes too much so. Many of these stories feature Americans abroad--a man alone in Egypt, a woman (also alone) in Tanzania preparing to climb Kilimanjaro. In the collection's best story, "The Only Meaning of Oil-Wet Water," two old friends reunite in Costa Rica for a kind of loveless love affair. The accumulation of details--surfing together in the oil-wet water, an injured anteater in their hotel room--brings the story a haunting power. But some of the stories don't come together as well, and Eggers' fans may be disappointed that almost none crack a smile. Still, Eggers imagines emotionally and symbolically resonant scenes as well as any of his contemporaries, and this collection has several great ones. John GreenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved