When describing a novel, it’s conventional to begin with the plot, then continue to the themes found within. However, Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, do they Live Forever? warrants the opposite treatment.
Comprised entirely of dialogue, Your Fathers tackles millennial and Gen-Xer disillusionment, police brutality, societal responses to pedophilia, bureaucratic inhumanity, and the cancellation of the space shuttle program (deeply symbolic, of course, of American decline).
These themes are expounded through conversations between Thomas, the novel’s protagonist, and several people he takes captive at an abandoned military base, among them an astronaut, a congressman, and a woman he met on the beach. As Thomas takes more captives and continues to interrogate them, Eggers reveals more about what drove him to take such actions.
I didn’t find much of interest, though. Your Fathers is a mess of flimsy characters, didactic dialogue, and contrived plot. The novel’s full of clunky lines like this one about Thomas’ hometown: “This was always some kind of model for diversity and a strong middle class and all that, then the base closed and it all fell down a few notches after that.” Late in the novel, Thomas kidnaps someone who turns out to be connected to a source of his past trauma, an eye-rolling coincidence.
Eggers can do better. His 2012 novel A Hologram for the King was occasionally weighed down by his eagerness to reference current trends, but its protagonist Alan Klay was as much a human—a struggling businessman and father—as a vehicle for themes, and the plot hummed along smoothly.
There are flashes of good writing in Your Fathers, as when Thomas and the congressman argue about the way that the rules have changed for the younger generation. These moments belong in a better novel—one that can tell a story while making a point, and address important issues without hitting the reader over the head with them.
–Published June 17th by Knopf and McSweeney’s (at which, full disclosure, I’m a former intern)