—Do you know why you’re here?
—No. Who are you? What is this?
—You’re chained to a post in an abandoned military base because I want to talk to you about a book.
—That sounds insane.
—It’s roughly as insane as the premise of Dave Eggers’ latest novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
—That’s an annoyingly long title. You kidnapped me and tied me up because you wanted to start a Dave Eggers book club with me?
—Yes. It’s a very good book. Have you read it?
—Pity. Allow me to explain. So the main character, Thomas, has kidnapped an astronaut named Kev and tied him to a post inside an abandoned military base for interrogation. He has a taser, but he doesn’t want to use it.
—So it’s exactly like what you’re doing right now?
—Right. The context of the book is that NASA has just cancelled the space shuttle program, and Thomas is angry at the government on Kev’s behalf because now he won’t get to walk on the moon. Then Thomas starts spiraling out into this general rage about his childhood, his drug-addicted mother, the job market, and his friend who got shot by the police. He has all these questions, so he keeps kidnapping other people to interrogate them, and he keeps getting away with it.
—It sounds like a —
—What? Finish that sentence.
—It sounds like a gimmick.
—It’s not. Did I mention that the whole thing is told in dialogue with no attribution? Like, just two speakers at a time going back and forth on a page? It’s genius.
—Yeah, definitely a gimmick. This is why I hate Dave Eggers.
—Really? That’s why I love Dave Eggers.
—Well, agree to disagree. Now will you let me go?
—Not yet. Do you know who I am?
—No, I never met you.
—Think harder, Mr. Nielson.
—Wait, were you one of my students? You’re not that Carmody boy, are you?
—Yep. Mad as hell, too. Do you remember what you told every freshman English class at the start of the school year?
—I told you to question everything.
—Yes. “Question everything,” you said, “because it makes the people with the power squirm.” Then you handed out copies of Catcher in the Rye.
—What does that have to do with the Dave Eggers book?
—When I read it, I was inspired for the first time since freshman English. It’s a book about questioning authority and speaking truth to power. This guy in the book, Thomas, he sees through the lies. He’s not just asking questions about NASA, he’s asking questions about this … this system we all live under in America.
—What system is that?
—Oh, you know the system! We talked about it in class. Corporate America. War profiteers. Rich white men with power. The broken promise that says if you work hard and stay in school, you’ll get a steady, good-paying job.
—I can’t believe I’m having this conversation right now. Could you … cite an example from the text?
—Yeah, hang on, let me find the page. OK, here’s where Thomas is interrogating a Congressman about NASA funding: “Kev said he was going to be an astronaut, and he did everything he was asked to do to become one. But now it means nothing. That just seems like the worst kind of thing, to tell a generation or two that the finish line is here, that the requirements to get there are this and this and this, but then, just as we get there, you move the finish line.” You see what I’m talking about?
—Maybe. What does the Congressman say?
—Typical bootstraps nonsense: “Jesus Christ, son, the worst thing your predecessors ever did for you young pricks was to succeed. We made everything so easy that you cry yourselves up a storm every time there’s a pebble in your path.” You don’t agree with that, do you?
—Maybe the Congressman has a point.
—Oh, this is rich. I can’t believe I’m hearing this from Mr. Nielson, Mr. Question Everything himself.
—The problem with these generalities about “the system” is that they’re always based on some kind of straw man fallacy. This character, Thomas, comes across like a petulant child pinning all of his problems on the Baby Boomers. I bet he kidnaps one of his teachers, too.
—Yeah, but you’re missing the point. It’s about how all these people ruined his life.
—Y’know, I always resented Dave Eggers because people made him out to be the Voice of Generation X. That memoir he wrote back in 2000 was so damn pretentious, I couldn’t tell when it was self-parody and when he was being sincere. Maybe he’s older and wiser now. I think he’s writing about how the whole world doesn’t revolve around you and you have to solve your own problems. It’s like Thomas is a proxy for the archetypal Whining Millennial, and everybody he kidnaps is a proxy for the people and institutions that all Millennials supposedly love to blame. In that case, everyone’s a straw man, even Thomas.
—Whatever. This has been so disappointing. You’re free to go.
—I actually want to read that book now. Can I borrow your copy?
—Don’t push your luck.