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FEBRUARY 2006

> A REVIEW OF EGGERS'S HOW WE ARE HUNGRY (2004) | jason jordan

There's no denying that Dave Eggers is influential, and has been one of the most watched writers since the turn of the century. With the influx of McSweeney's installments and a new book every couple years, the man does release a bevy of material. And really, he's worth reading even though the naysayer may scoff at the idea, citing the preposterousness of "hysterical realism," which is "characterized by chronic length, manic characters, frenzied action, and frequent digressions on topics secondary to the story." Still, Eggers proves valuable insomuch as he's entertaining, frustrating, scatterbrained, and capable of drawing out emotions. I must admit that I often have a bipolar reaction to his writing, so it follows that the prospect of reviewing an Eggers book is daunting for me. How should one approach the experimental, fictionalized memoir known as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Vintage, 2001), which garnered critical acclaim and nearly won the Pulitzer? How does one tackle the oddball endeavor You Shall Know Our Velocity (Vintage, 2003)? The solution? Prey on a much weaker beast: How We Are Hungry (Vintage, 2004). Fittingly, though, this collection of short stories is Eggers's most recent effort, if we're excluding everything but his sole work.

Like I said, How We Are Hungry is a short story compendium, featuring previously unpublished material as well as pieces that have seen the light of day elsewhere. Not much is notable until "The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water," which functions as an unofficial addendum to You Shall Know Our Velocity. The story begins by extrapolating the budding, intimate relationship between Hand and Pilar, but without the narrator of YSKOV in tow, and I feel emotionally detached and basically unaffected. Its predecessor – "What It Means When a Crowd in a Faraway Nation Takes a Soldier Representing Your Own Nation, Shoots Him, Drags Him from His Vehicle and Then Mutilates Him in the Dust" – is painfully aware of itself, whereas "On Wanting to Have Three Walls Up Before She Gets Home" doesn't really go anywhere promising. Both are extremely short, and like all of Eggers's short short stories, they aren't too gratifying. The anomaly, however, is "Naveed." Featuring a girl on the brink of having sex with her thirteenth partner, the third-person perspective explains the girl's qualms with the phrase "baker's dozen." "And though they both will laugh when the fiancé utters the phrase, and laugh some more as he conjures the image of actual bakers, in their white outfits and hats and powdered hands, lining up for a crack at Stephanie – ha ha ho ho! – both Stephanie and her beloved will be privately sickened by the image and the phrase at its root and it will thus be the beginning of a quick unraveling of their love and respect for one another." It's phenomenal when the scene adopts literalness previously unthought-of, but the ending is perhaps most triumphant: "His name will be Naveed…and for fourteen there are no expressions involving bakers, none involving tradesmen of any kind."

In a similar vein, "When They Learned to Yelp" succeeds because of its spot-on humor. Many of the lengthier compositions are unsatisfying in a variety of ways, but the ones that do provide ample enjoyment are "Climbing to the Window, Pretending to Dance" and "Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly." The former is about someone who constantly fails at committing suicide – much to the chagrin of his friend – while the latter is the tale of a Mt. Kilimanjaro ascent. Both accounts are agonizing insofar as the events described therein are off-putting, and not fun to think about. Who wants to dwell upon the various methods of suicide, or afflictions caused by high altitudes and lack of oxygen? Nevertheless, Eggers does a commendable job. "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned" is arguably yet another throwback to YSKOV, because the title is almost a reiteration of the first sentence of the Chicagoan's second novel.

Ultimately, How We Are Hungry is an unbalanced collection, rife with the good, bad, and the ugly. A select few aren't so much ugly as they are directionless, or even pointless. Perhaps needless to say, this book isn't essential and the only recommendation I'm comfortable giving is in regards to AHWoSG, which should be read for its inventiveness and status within the literary community. Eggers may be hot shit now, but I'm of the persuasion that he's as cold as he is hot. Nonetheless, I could practically write about him and his work all day, so I guess that says something about his impact on me. I don't know. I'll let you figure that one out.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Jason Jordan is many things. He is staff reviewer for this magazine. He was the host of the BEAN STREET READING SERIES. He was an editor of The IUS Review. He has been a featured writer at the Tuesday Night Reading Series in Evansville, Indiana. His writing appears in THE EDWARD SOCIETY and THE2NDHAND. He teaches college writing to college students. He will be going on tour this summer to promote his forthcoming novel, Powering the Devil's Circus, tentatively scheduled for release on 06/06/06. He is a writer.