black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: zeitoun (dave eggers)

my edition of zeitoun has a clipped cover. its unbound edge ends half an inch early to reveal a deep maroon subcover with a full-page quote from timothy egan's times review:
Imagine Charles Dickens, his sentimentality in check but his journalistic eyes wide open, roaming New Orleans after it was buried by Hurricane Katrina...Eggers' tone is pitch-perfect--suspense blended with just enough information to stoke reader outrage and what is likely to be a typical response: How could this happen in America?...It's the stuff of great narrative nonfiction...Fifty years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history, they will still be talking about a family named Zeitoun.
then eight more pages of review excerpts, then eggers' biography and five URLs relating to his causes and projects. (then his autograph on a second title page; my sis got the book signed for me as an early birthday present.) fifteen pages, all told, before the story begins. hang on to your lemon zinger, it says. you're in for industrial-strength edification.

what zeitoun delivers is...exactly that, really. dave eggers' fiction has never really blown my hair back (his first novel, you shall know our velocity, tripped over its own feet;** the talking dog story in how we are hungry left me cold, and if there is a natural audience for talking dog stories, i am its rapporteur), but his nonfiction has an elegant vivacity i quite like: he curates a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, the story of how he raised his eight-year-old brother after their parents died, with a lot of charisma.*** the charisma's here as he presents the zeitoun family and hurricane katrina as well, but it's gotten sneakier: the exposed seams he flaunted in a heartbreaking work (so late 90's) now shape the tale invisibly. eggers uses a gorgeous syrian night fishing scene to introduce us to zeitoun (and how community and the sea are bound up for him), and he makes call after excellent call as he takes us through the family's flight to arizona, zeitoun's experience in the storm, and what happens after new orleans is overwhelmed. many reviewers speak of eggers' restraint, but that's not quite it: he does let the events speak for themselves, but it's his angles of approach (and the scenes he chooses) that really wallop. i kept whacking joe in the arm as we lay in our hotel room in montreal: "and now he's back at the house where he was feeding the starving dogs, and he looks under the window and - " "why do you tell me these things?!"****

long story short: eggers personalizes katrina and the war on terror with a lot of skill and a lot of heart. he will probably always make my snark glands go haywire, but that says more about my heart of tar than it does about him. zeitoun is wonderful.

VICTOR: black swan green. eggers out-directs mitchell (here, at least - i have a feeling cloud atlas would have a thing or two to say to him), and his raw material is lethal - but mitchell, free to eschew realism, is still fantastic. and then there's my heart of tar.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your take on dave eggers? how much slack should one cut him in promoting zeitoun, given that it benefits noble causes? if you've read it, what did you think?

02 is away we go (the john krasinski / maya rudolph movie eggers wrote with his wife) worth seeing? i'll give it a chance if i must, but my instincts tell me to run.

03 have you ever heard of a "curate's egg"? (the term bobbed to the internet's surface as i was assembling this post; i think it's marvelous, and plan to use it all the time. note that zeitoun is not a curate's egg.)

04 what's your heart made of?

*previous battle here.

**see 10.14.03.

***amusingly, the reviewer in that times piece i linked writes that "Eggers has spent perhaps one too many semesters at the David Foster Wallace school of creative writing," then goes on to assure us that eggers's gimmicks are actually far less annoying than DFW's.

****zeitoun is second only to in-cold-blood-while-we-were-scouting-oxford-for-our-wedding as awkward vacation reading.


tanthalas said...

01 having only read AHWOSG and Zeitoun, as well as his Slate piece on the World Cup, I'm dandy with Eggers.  I really liked Zeitoun - particularly with the way the story is woven and told, and the third part of the book definitely left me with plenty to think about.  As for the promo: how much of it do we know is him and how much of it is his publisher?

03 nope, but i shall try to fit that into a conversation this week, if not today!

04 GOLD!  ...ok, now that we're done politely laughing at that, I need to think about this one.  It's too bad confusion isn't a substance.

LPC said...

01 The only Eggers I've read is What is the What. Which is such a great title I was predisposed to love the book. That said, and something is always said, right?, the story whupped his writing. Personal slack for noble causes, yes. For literary, no.

02 Heart of tar will be like the Tarbaby, 'Throw me in the brar patch, take me 'way from all dese hipstahs, make dem get a real job.' And I meant that to be offensive, probably took it too far, but I have my own burnt sulfurous tar too.

03 No.

04 Burned marshmallow.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: Does the slack need cutting for the reason that promoting a noble cause with a book is delinquent?!  Because, talk of tarry hearts aside, I kind of get that.  (The Mistakes We Knew We Were Making addendum is all I’ve read of Eggers and I quite enjoyed it.)
02: I’d love to read you Kael the shit out of it.
04: Pace Jesus, lust (for life, pace Iggy).

kidchamp said...

@tanthalas i will accept gold. and you're probably right about the publisher. i'm too hard on DE.

@LPC i always did love a burned marshmallow. 

@MDF somehow the bio-prior-to-text was too much; on my head-planet, that only happens once you're dead. apparently yes, even in the context of straight-up admirable philanthropy, pride is unforgivable. 

anonymous said...

(and a write-in comment from amanda, for echo is being bratty)

01 Superhero Store 4evah (Mild Manner, $643.00, Prehistoric Guardian Fern, $11.00)
02 Probably not for Laurens
03 I have now
04 Paper boats and smooth, gray stones (as opposed to purple bats and fewments, which is somehow what I think might comprise your own feathered aorta)
05 How, pray, do hearts differ from souls?

Celia said...

02 i HATED that movie.
04 my ex-boyfriend once told me that i have a heart that pumps crude oil... probably why i HATED that movie.

gracie said...

i *just* realized you're too smart for me. :/

furiousmuse said...

1>Eggers...I've only read "Heartbreaking Work..." and that is a book I had to start twice (as I did with "Mating"). I think this has to do with where I'm at in life when I start reading something, and both of those texts were weighty ones for me to digest. Both were also satisfying. I'd like to read more Eggers.
2>eh, take it or leave it. So, leave it. ;-)
3>no! Fantastic bit of etymology. Thanks!
4>Tempur-pedic foam. I'm subject to my surroundings: I mold to the elements around me, and I bounce back in the aftermath.

Amanda said...

FewMETs, damn it. Not fewMENTS.