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Dave Eggers, "The Wild Things": Book Review

Updated on October 11, 2016
3 stars for The Wild Things by Dave Eggers

First Impressions

I have this habit of changing my opinion about books once I reach the end. The end can ruin the whole beautiful story or the story can suck until its heart wrenching end. However, what I have come to realize is that the hours spent reading the good part are well worth it. So, if you are a person who has learned how to take the good with the bad, what I have decided to do for you is tell you all about a book once I have reached the middle, and then I’ll tell you all about it again once I have reached the end.

When I was on page 140 of The Wild Things by Dave Eggers (about halfway through), a book published in 2009 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc. in New York, I was not particularly impressed.

So anyway, the book burst onto its pages with a start at a confusingly blistering speed, letting the reader know it is about an energetic, troubled, and troublesome little boy named Max. The tone is strong and consistent with the character, and as endearingly simple as conversation with a child.

Eight-year-old Max’s love/hate affair with his fourteen-year-old sister quickly takes on an emotional element as the reader is told of the quality of their relationship. In typical Eggers style, he makes you sympathize with a brat and quickly take his side. Also in typical Eggers style, the reader is completely inside the head of the protagonist, taken by the hand to feel his raucous joy and delicate pain almost immediately.

So let me tell you what happens. If you are like me and hate to read the story of the book before reading the story of the book, then skip this paragraph and the following. After that, I don’t tell you any more than the back of the book. Max and his sister fight because in a very simple way, she hates him. He hates her back, but only in response to her actions toward him. Eggers shows us this sibling rivalry, mostly caused by Max, with a colorful snowball attack upon Max’s sister and her friends. Eggers quickly cultivates reader frustration with Max for being such a rambunctious child who reacts to the results of the snowball fight by pouring water all over his sister’s room, destroying her pictures and bedspread.

Enter Mom. Max has an extra-soft soft spot for Mom because she shows Max more love. However, this soft spot has no room for Gary, Mom’s droopy loser-trying-to-be-chummy-with-the-kids boyfriend, and Max, being that kid, does not see how his slightly sadistic actions toward Gary affect Mom. We see Mom act in ways that adults understand, but see how Max doesn’t understand, and get a vivid picture of the tensions in their household. The tensions culminate in a strange cry for attention from Max while wearing a wolf suit that “smells like butt” that ends in an unintentional gang up on Max for acting slightly weird. He runs away from what he sees as his awful household and ends up on an island with wild beasts from Maurice Sendak’s popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. (Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with Spike Jonze based upon this book.)

Max, on the island, romps around with the beasts and becomes their king as a creative defense-mechanism against their original instinct to eat him. Here, the plot of the story plateaus for a bit as Eggers colors in the relationships between the beasts and their relationships with Max. The descriptions of the beasts, somewhat confusing but seemingly pretty accurate when you’ve already got a picture of them in your mind from seeing the illustrations in the children’s book, help move the story along but don’t incite much emotion. Up until this point, the book had been full of anger, love, confusion, and frustration, but here on this surreal island, Max’s feelings become merely thoughts. However, Eggers maintains the pace with short, punchy chapters and humor intercepting potentially boring explanations of mild attempts at answering the question “Does Carol want to eat Max or not?” It seems as if Eggers is getting at something here and there, and the confusion is part of the charm of the story. However, as a reader, I don’t feel Max’s budding distrust of the animals, I just read it. I am constantly entertained, though.

2.5 stars for Eggers

I'm not going to lie, this is not Dave Eggers's best work. Sorry dude. At first, I was amused by his cutesy style and engulfed in his ability to make a personality leap off of a page, but I felt that the lead character fell flat. This was especially disappointing because the character was a child, and I was really hoping for something a little more moving. I just came off of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer, after which I was stunned, and was yearning for more content centered around the honest sensitivities of a child. However, I felt that Eggers, in an effort to be funny, highlighted the childish actions of the characters too often instead of making their actions show the emotional connections.

I wanted to know what happened, but I was not invested in the story. I got bored quickly and just focused on figuring out the plot line. There were some scenes that I found interesting, but not necessarily in a positive way. I call them interesting because they caused me to read more closely, though, not because I liked them. In fact, I did not like them, and some of them made me uncomfortable. There were a few scenes which were too gruesome, but I guess I asked for it because it is a story about monsters. However, there are some scenes - one scene in particular between two of the monsters who seems to be together - by which I felt offended knowing that I was reading a children's story. I had to read that scene twice to be sure that it said what I thought it said, and sure enough, it included sexual undertones. That was not the only scene which created that atmosphere, either, and I felt that they were gratuitous and perhaps a little bit self-serving.

Anyway, I give Eggers a lot of credit for the end. I read the back again when I got toward the end since I was unsure of where the story was going anymore after the sexual scenes threw me for a loop. I figured out that the story was about a child experiencing love and hate, and I felt a tad gypped until the last few pages. Eggers was required to show love and hate in a child's world all at the same time, and in his closing scenes, he delivered. So bravo for that but I'm upset that I had to read everything else to get there.


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    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      That's great post...nice

    • PiaC profile image

      PiaC 6 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I've been wanting to read this book, and your review makes me even more eager to do so! thanks for writing.