I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book from the publisher. It is set to be released on March 19, 2019. All opinions are my own.I have a kind of take-him-or-leave-him attitude toward Dave Eggers. I think his writing is ok but not amazing and I kind of don’t get the hype that surrounds his work. So I was interested in reading his latest novel but not super excited. With this approach, I was thoroughly impressed with The Parade.
The book’s blurb describes it as having “echoes of J.M. Coetzee and Graham Greene” and while I can see the comparison to Greene, the author who kept coming to mind as I read was Franz Kafka. (I haven’t read enough Coetzee to say whether or not that is an apt comparison.) There is a strangeness to the setting and a futility to the characters’ actions that reminded me of Kafka’s The Castle. This comparison is enhanced by the fact that none of the characters are given real names.
Our main characters are 4 and 9. They are foreign contractors, working for a company brought in to finish a highway in a country where a civil war has recently ended. The highway will connect the north and the south, the city and the rural. It will join together two warring sides and make the amenities of the city available to the impoverished country for the first time ever. When the highway is finished, the country will celebrate with a parade.
4 is experienced and diligent. He does his job and he follows the rules. He isn’t curious about the country or its people, he simply wants to do the best job possible and go home. He is partnered with 9. This is 9’s first job and he is young and adventurous. He wants to experience the nation, meet the people, and he doesn’t care about the rules. He is driving 4 crazy and potentially endangering the whole job.
The characters are not broadly fleshed out (although they are unique and distinct) and the plot isn’t particularly complex. The ending is surprising but not necessarily shocking. The strength of the novel lies in its barebones. This country could be one of many. These men could be almost anyone. And so it forces your attention to what is happening, to what it means for this road to be built, for this war to be over. It’s a fascinating commentary on the involvement of developed nations in the wars of other countries.
At 192 pages, the book is concise. Unlike other works I’ve read from Eggers, it feels clean and pared down. The reader sees and hears only what she needs to and Eggers tells the story matter-of-factly, letting us draw our own conclusions.