"You Shall Know Our Velocity"
by Dave Eggers
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 16th September 2010After the death of their friend Jack, a young American called Will persuades another friend (the unlikely-sounding Hand) to accompany him on a week-long round-the-world trip, with the aim of giving away a $38,000 inheritance to deserving people that they meet on the way. Almost immediately their original plans are thwarted by the realities of international travel, and so instead their journey is dictated essentially by chance.
As with a lot of fiction I wondered at times if I'm missing some deeper significance - for example, could the names "Will" and "Hand" somehow indicate respectively the intention to act and the means of doing so? But their misadventures feel a bit too messy to be a metaphor, too much like real life - in reality things seldom turn out as perfectly as we might have planned in our imaginations.
This is especially true when other people are involved and we need them to play a particular part in our fantasy - in Will's case he often seems to feel frustrated when the impoverished foreigners he and Hand choose to bestow their gifts are lacking in "dignity"; instead of being poor but noble, they often try to hustle him for his money or are simply baffled by what the two Americans are doing.
In spite of this they work hard to try and realise their schemes (in one episode, having buried some money they then make an elaborate treasure map which they plan to have discovered by children who they hope will dig it up months later), and occasionally Will at least (who seems haunted by his memories) seems to achieve moments of transcendence, even peace (in one surprisingly touching scene with an Estonian prostitute towards the end of the book).
I think elsewhere this has been compared with "On the Road", and I suppose that like Kerouac's book "You Shall Know..." is concerned with continually moving. (Also Will's joy at meeting a small girl and her family in Mexico at the end reminded me of my favourite part of "On the Road".) Unexpectedly I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I might.