A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King,
by Dave Eggers, is a postmodern novel whose tone and style bears
resemblance to other contemporary writers such as David Foster Wallace,
Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, Richard Powers and Neil Gaiman
(Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature). The
enormous desert spaces and accompanying sense of loneliness and
alienation echo scenes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki
Murakami. Water and well-like imagery are remarkable similar. At the same time, Egger's book is reminiscent of the work
of older authors such as Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman).

The narrator in A Hologram for the King is 54-year-old
Alan Clay.  Adam was once an executive at the Schwinn Bicycle Company
when it was based in Chicago.  He helped the company outsource its
manufacturing to China, ultimately putting
Schwinn out of business.  Unwittingly, Alan outsourced himself out of a
job.  His father, a World War II vet and former factory worker, never
forgives him for undercutting the union.

When the book
opens, we find Alan in Saudi Arabia with three young assistants from
Reliant Corporation.  His job is to get the IT contract for a city still
in its planning stage.  The King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) is just
being built and its condominiums stand empty.  The three techies have
set up equipment in a vast tent in order to present a hologram of their
vision for this city of the future.
The only problem is that King
Abdullah, for whom the presentation is intended, fails to show up day
after day.  He seems to be out of the country and no one knows when he
will return. With their wi-fi signal weak, there is nothing for the
three assistants to do.  The tent is poorly air conditioned and food for
the team is not forthcoming.  Outside they are surrounded by blistering
desert heat. The ennui is almost palpable.

The stark, lonely surroundings mirror Alan's inner state of
mind.  He has had a messy divorce from a woman described as cruel and
unbalanced.  Alan has lost nearly everything.  His home is in
foreclosure.  He cannot pay the college tuition for his only daughter,
Kit. His one hope, like that of Willie Loman, is to make this one great
sale.  If Reliant is awarded the IT contract for KAEC, Alan's commission
will be in the six figures and his problems will be solved.  

wanted to believe that this kind of thing, a city rising from dust,
could happen. The architectural renderings he'd seen were magnificent.
Gleaming towers, tree-lined public spaces and promenades, a series of
canals allowing commuters to get almost anywhere by boat. The city was
futuristic and romantic, but also practical.  It could be made with
extant technology and a lot of money, but money Abdullah certainly had.

(p. 39)

Throughout the book, Alan recalls the suicide of
his neighbor.  The scene of the neighbor, newly converted to
Transcendentalism, stepping into a pond haunts both Alan and the
reader.  Alan keeps replaying the scene in his mind.  It took the man
hours to fully immerse and no one tried to stop him or call the police.
When the police were summoned, they acted only when it was too late.

What is Eggers saying here about our society?  That the neighbor
believing, as did Emerson, in self-reliance, gives in to despair? What
do the reactions of the bystanders--including Alan--mean?  Why did
everyone go about their business as if nothing was happening?

Alan's sense of ineptitude (displayed through his sexual
impotence) is increased by his lack of control in KAEC, Saudi Arabia.
Failure and regret dog him.  But Alan, despite his many doubts and
previous failures, continues to have hope for the future.  It is this
optomism that distinguishes him from Willie Loman.  Is Alan a symbol of
American capitalism itself?  As Pico Iyer concludes in his eloquent

Eggers has developed an exceptional gift for
opening up the lives of others so as to offer the story of globalism as
it develops and, simultaneously, to unfold a much more archetypal tale
of struggle and loneliness and drift.  Public and private explorations
come together, and as this groundbreaking writer grows wiser and deeper
and more melancholy, evolving from telling his own stories to voicing
America's, he might be asking us how we can bring the best parts of our
past into a planetary future.

(New York Times Book Review, July 22, 2012)

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