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New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Alaska of Giants and Gods" by Dave Eggers

Issue: Nov. 17, 2014

Story: "The Alaska of Giants and Gods"

Author: Dave Eggers

Rating: Meh Meh Meh

Review: I'm most familiar with Dave Eggers as the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (which I've never read) and in his role as the founder of McSweeney's, the ultra-hip, extremely cutting-edge literature and humor blog which has rejected everything I've ever sent them, albeit with a really nice, personal rejection email. Other than that, I have a book of Eggers' essays on my bookshelf, How We Are Hungry, that I've been meaning to read since the Bush administration. The bottom line is he's a many times published author and screenwriter and internet media impresario, culturally and artistically relevant even if the peak of his relevance (perhaps) has come and gone. He's not that far off the peak and may hit it again for all we know, but the fickle finger of fame and relevance only seems to alight on hipster media people for a few brief months or years and then it's gone.

Anyway...this story sucked. It sucked and I almost don't even feel like explaining why, but I'll try. It just felt "out of style" in some way. It just seems like Eggers is stuck in that late-90s early-2000s kooky-zooky, early George Saunders style of humor, setting characters in humorously improbably situations (Whoa, she's in an RV, with two small kids, in a lackluster national park...in Alaska!), with improbable people (befriended by a lonely old man without all his marbles), and thrust into oh-so-kooky and unlikely situations (it's a MAGIC SHOW....on a CRUISE SHIP! WHAT THE HEY?!). And just watch the hilarity as the mother drinks glass after glass of pinot noir, feels variously protective, embarrassed, and sad for the magicians on stage, while also intermittently turning her gaze back inward on herself and her recent divorce.

Blarg.

If I can back up a step...the set-up to this story was actually decent. When Eggers was establishing the character, her journey to Alaska, and her incredulity that Alaska could look so mundane, "...she had yet to see the Alaska of giants and gods. What she had seen so far...felt like Kentucky." And when she was describing the way sea otters cutely broke clams open on their stomachs with sharp rocks, "Such an animal could not be conceived by any self-respecting Creator. Only a God made in our image could go for that level of animal kitsch." I'm not 100% sure what that means, but I like it, and I like observations like that. Which is what, in my limited experience, Eggers can be really good for: seeing through things we take for granted and applying a sarcastic, post-modern intellectual sass to them.

I want more of that and less of the third-rate cruise ship magic show type humor that didn't really seem to have a point, except to drive the story toward a truly kitschy one-liner ending.

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