29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Dave Eggers first caught the world's attention with the semi-autobiographical "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." With the release of "How We Are Hungry," we get to see Eggers in a slightly new light -- these stories possess his usual postmodern skill and pensive intelligence, but lack the gentle humor and wit.
In this collection, Eggers examines various people who try to escape their difficulties, whether climbing mountains or roaming through rural Scotland. These people may be searching for love, for glory, for release, a burst of adrenaline in the desert, or for just a fling by the beach -- however, their problems and pasts will not go away.
Eggers does occasionally dip into gimmickry, such as "There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself." Don't expect much -- it's a few blank pages, which made me smile. But I feel a little cheated. He's at his best when he's unconsciously quirky, such as a cute conversation between God and the ocean in one short story.
Eggers has done well in his past novel and memoir, but some of the themes of "How We Are Hungry" feel worn -- this man has a unique writing talent, but writers have to grow, and this writing doesn't show his mind or soul growing. The themes have not changed, and that lack of movement and growth makes it feel like he's just... stuck.
That said, Eggers' writing is genuinely compelling and rich; in his rambly way, he's incredibly eloquent. His descriptions have a raw energy that can take your breath away, such as riding a horse in the desert. At the same time, he can wrap his characters in so much finely-drawn misery that it is difficult to not be moved by them. It's also the one area where Eggers stumbles -- despite the whimsy of the occasional "gimmick" story, the writing is dark and rather depressed. I'm not asking for sunshine and butterflies, but it lacks quips, wit and human insight.
Those characters tend to feel like reflections of Eggers himself -- rather world-wear and melancholy. One woman, who climbs a legendary mountain in search of a purpose, is perhaps the richest character -- her inner thoughts are so real that they fly off the page. And she, like all the other characters, is hungry. Not for food, but to fill some emptiness inside that can't be named.
Perhaps it's that inner hole that preoccupies Eggers' work, and the endless search is what keeps it from exploring the world. Despite a hint of stagnation, "How We Are Hungry" is a rich and engaging collection of stories. It leaves me wondering where -- if anywhere -- Eggers will go as a writer.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2004
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Eggers's first book, A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, was amazing (although I've talked to several people about it and nobody can really remember what the story is about-it's just great style). His second book wasn't as fresh, mostly because the style was no longer new.
This, his third book, a collection of short stories, reads more like a collection of ideas that never grew up to be bigger. Some, only a page or two long, never even made it to short-storyhood. His writing is fantastic, but I felt like, for most of the stories, I was reading about him or someone he knows. The characters are interesting, but all tend to act and sound the same. His stories have a bit of desperate sadness to them, but they never really go anywhere. Sometimes this is nice. Other times it would be nice to go somewhere with these interesting people. I was a little disappointed that my favorite story in the book is one I read years ago in a short story anthology. It's a great story told from the point of view of a dog. Perhaps I'm being unfair to expect to be blown away by everything Eggar's writes, but there are so many fantastic lines, brilliant descriptions and details laced throughout his stories that I want the stories themselves to be as good.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2004
Dave Eggers has always been too clever by half, and often that resulted in prose getting in the way of plot. Short stories, therefore, are the perfect medium for him, as he can dazzle with words without being bound to develop characters or advance a story (although the few longer stories in the book are surprisingly good). There's not a dud in the book; I'd love to see him publish another volume.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2004
Just when I thought I knew what to expect from the short story or from the yawn-inducing term "short story collection," Eggers's new book came along and blew me away. The stories vary in length (some are a paragraph) and location (Egypt, Costa Rica). Some have no words at all (that should keep you guessing). But each of them is full of invention and beauty, humor and concern, joy and hunger. You don't get the feeling when reading this book, as you do with other collections, that certain stories were inserted just to pad out the pages. Each one is a surprise and stands on its own as a beautiful object. And the collection raises the bar for other short story writers. My vote for the best collection of the year. Hands down.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2004
I loved the story I read from this collection in the Best Magazine Writing
of 2003 because the sentences were Nabokovian. Who knew surfing could be
described with sentences that make you want to cry? But reading this
collection I see that Dave Eggers is up to more than pretty sentences. His
stories are timely and, many of them, allegorical. They resemble George
Saunders's work in that they, too, create a mirror that reflects our human
condition and political situation more clearly than we were able to see it
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2005
Firt off I must say that I am a huge Dave Egger's fan. I have all 37 of the collectible McDonald's steins when they were promoting "You Shall Know Our Velocity" -- I even have the one with Dave holding up his glowing finger like E.T. with the caption that reads BE GOOD. I was at the Lincoln memorial when he gave his I HAVE A DREAM speech (No, not Martin Luther King's speech but the other I HAVE A DREAM speech right after Dr. King's). I love Dave Egger's so much that I would marry him if only gay marriage were legal.
In "How We Are Hungry" Eggers makes us laugh, cry and hungry for his next book, article or world changing speech. But I found myself laughing more than I did crying when I read Hungry. It is true that some of the well crafted stories in this book touch at the sensitive points of global inequities. The story about climbing Kilimanjaro is nothing more than an allegory of Western progress resting on the back of Thrid-world labor.
But somewhere between the really well thought out stories in Hungry -- all either underscoring some moral flaw in the fabric of Western Culture or pinching some poignant nerve -- I found myself laughing at Dave's easily recognizable sense of humor. And this is why Eggers scores a four instead of five in my rating.
There appears to be an appearance of laziness or sloppyness in the preparation of his latest book. It must be considered that he was probably being inventive with the short shorts and the story that is not a story at all but just notes for a story. But I would say that there are about five really good stories in this book and the rest of the stories are Eggers exercising his wit in new ways or making us laugh in his old ways.
In short, Eggers succeeds in How We Are Hungry, but not in a staggering way.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2005
I love, love, love "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." I think Dave Eggers seems like a great, give-back-to-the-world guy. I saw him read once, and he's totally cute. And that thing about the pirate shop he has that funds charity? Fabulous.
But this book, and the novel he wrote just before this one, make me tired. It seems too ironic. Eggers seems too detached, and like he creates characters and feelings that aren't real....stuff that seems almost like sci-fi without anything supernatural or otherworldly happening.
I just think he comes up with characters that that seem false...expatriate Americans, weird guys with death wishes, single women who ego problems, one-armed attractive gals. (And don't even get me started on that darn recurring character named Hand. It isn't funny, it isn't cute. STOP.) Then he throws these weirdly unappealing souls into travel-brochure situations and proceeds to mildly mess things up for them.
An anteater crashes through a roof in one story. It rains incessantly in another tale where a woman is trying to climb Kilamanjaro. The travelogue details aren't even that good...they often seem like very, very unsubtle devices for removing people from their day-to-day environments.
His switching of styles between stories IS masterful...first person here, third person there. But it doesn't change the fact that he seems like he's only concerned with literary fireworks now, not plotting or character development. Sorry, Dave, but this was the last time for me...no more of your books on my list! I'm sticking to McSweeney's from now on!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2004
How We Are Hungry is my favorite Eggers book. By losing the oxymoronic tone of sincerity and preemptive defense -- not that this voice hadn't worked well, particularly in his memoir, but still... -- Eggers manages to write a few of the best conventional and unconventional short stories I've read over the past few years. "Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly" (did the Observer really say "It may well be the last great twentieth-century short story?) and "After I Was Thrown In The River And Before I Drowned" are easily worth any money and time you might drop into this book.
Of course, for those who like post-modern noodling, there is some of that too. Though, I must say, even if you don't -- I don't -- dealing with it in short pieces (5 pages without words doesn't require much investment) feels entirely more like hearing a joke than being the butt of one. And no matter what you think about Eggers -- "talented hypester and organizer of tax-and-tutition-funded failed-writers"... tutition? -- his jokes are almost always funny. He writes beautiful sentences too.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2005
Many reviewers comment upon dave egger's great writing style. And I would agree that his writing is sometimes witty and occasionally insightful into the bewildered and questing minds of modern American post-adolescents. However, my problem with his stories and novels is that they sacrifice meaning for style. His characters are in their 20's or 30's, tend to work McJobs, and travel to foreign places. They clearly are youth out to define their existential places in a post-modern society where identity is fluid and the perimeters of stability are defined by bland baby-boomers who, as do all parents in the eyes of their children, do not understand this thing called life.
You read these stories and you understand that these young people are so evanescent because of the fact that they don't HAVE to do any one thing yet. They have avoided the commitments of career and family to this point, and are in one form or another investigating roles that they will probably assume eventually in their adult lives.
But so what? If you are in your 20's and 30's and don't have much of a life yet, you might enjoy reading about fictional characters that mirror your own life. But Egger's stories don't move beyond this initial view, and in fact might seem to make aimlessness attractive in its own right.
There is a story in this collection, "the only meaning of the oil-wet water," which ties into the novel "you shall know our velocity." The character Hand from the novel is living in Costa Rica in this story, and a sometime-girlfriend from his high school comes to visit him there. The story is about her attempts to come to terms with a desire for security and definition in a world of complete existential freedom. The writing is fine, though the forced linking of disparate images is common; Eggers will stop at nothing to find a metaphor where nothing previously existed. Sometimes this works. Often it doesn't, and strikes a careful reader as precious.
And once this stylistic pattern becomes apparent, this same reader begins to wonder, why should I read this story? How are these personages different from those in Hemingway's Sun Also Rises? Or Catcher in the Rye? Or On the Road? Because Egger's books are in the same genre as these. Adolescent questor seeks to create meaning in a world where meaning is relative at best. Are his stories re-telling this age-old problem? Can we care about these characters, or are they self-absorbed first world brats? Are these Hamlets and Ophelias going to find the secret, the trick, to modern life? Or are they going to turn into shells, just like their bored baby boomer parents? (Who interestingly have disappeared altogether in heartbreaking work of staggering genius, or who die with the protagonist at the end of "velocity")
Egger's stories are about young people searching for definition. Well enough and good. His writing is certainly not boring, and can sometimes be quite evocative. At least he avoids the buddhist ramble-babbling of Kerouac. He has moments of psychologic insight into human nature, followed by long periods of plot structure that seem random or ineffectively connected to any larger theme. This randomness may be purposeful, as he tries to show the difficulty for these young people to make sense of a world that does not find them particularly interesting as individuals. Is that not one of the great heartbreaks of late adolescence, the discovery that the world has no epic pattern, of which we are each the star and hero? Unless we go out and actively seek that larger pattern? That may be a theme that Eggers is working towards in his work.
So therefore I would say that Eggers is a writer to watch because he has talent. But at this time, his work is only further efforts in the long line in the genre of American literature that DH Lawrence called, "books for boys," like Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and the Leatherstocking tales, none of which are bad books, but can you really re-read these books after age 35? 45? 55? 65? Interesting critical perimeter, I know, but it proves to be a useful test over time....some books at 25 seem trite ten years later. Some books that seem obtuse at 25 are filled with wisdom at 45. I sense a wine/book metaphor here...
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2004
First introduced to Mr. Eggers via his "A Heartbreaking work" I was intrigued when I saw these stories listed and had to buy them. So many have failed at "collections" but Eggers is not one of them. This really has to be the most ingenius putting-together of ideas since his first book. Having initially read "The Only Meaning" in Zoetrope, I was expecting the rest of the bunch to be stellar, but nothing like what I got. As another reviewer said, "Not a bad one in the bunch."
Also very much liked another collection titled "The Children's Corner" by Jackson McCrae. The stories are about loss and everything you can imagine. Very well done also.