A Hologram for the King - Dave Eggers (Book Review)
A Hologram for the King is at once ambitious and at the same time underwhelming. The story compels us to believe we are reading a story and an allegory of modern business all at the same time without being able to identify where the line between the two blurs.
Alan Clay, the anti-hero of the story, is an average veteran consultant sent to make a sales pitch to Middle Eastern interests. The book's economic realism relies on the tenuous handshake between American and Middle Eastern business practices. The story of Alan is not about a raging war for oil, culture, or ethics, but instead an assessment of American financial interest in a foreign environment. The chances of success or failure are murky. Alan's experience of life as a foreigner is very detached. We are left to wonder whether Dave Eggers is criticizing soul-sucking business pursuits in foreign sales, highlighting some kind of worldwide confusion in an age of globalism, or perhaps throwing light into the shadowy world of large businesses operating all around the world with nothing to show for their expenditures.
Alan is himself a case study in a certain kind of mercenary businessman. His family is already broken and he holds onto just one real connection with his daughter. It is apparent that Alan cares for his child and can make some honorable claim that his work may better her future, but Alan's actions do not resemble that of a man trying to prove anything to himself or his daughter. Instead the arid wasteland he travels to on business seems to mirror his inner spiritual stagnation. He is a victim of his own circumstances, but also a man who easily slides into unfavorable circumstances. He is a company man, but his true employer is a global handshake that cares not for the identity of its worker bees. He's a voiceless mouthpiece lost between two foreign cultures whose only communication is a business pitch.
Hologram is not A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but perhaps that is the point. Eggers' writing is at times dry and listless, but this resembles the setting of the novel. We must believe that the lack of flare in his writing is purposeful and meant to immerse us in the dull, illusory business world Alan finds himself. The anti-hero finds few triumphs and no reader could be so delusional as to find events in the novel personally desirable. The result is that the audience walks away from this novel not wanting the life of Alan Clay. Is Eggers trying to warn us? The novel could be interpreted as to be an argument against the dry ebb of business and the dystopian future that would be its consequence.
© 2014 Joe Dowgiallo