Man and His Morals
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?
It's often been said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There's God. There's the government. There's the human will. And in each of these three, man assumes a particular place within the broad scope of it all. Dave Eggers provides a candid look at man's place in the world in a series of conversations between a kidnapper and his seven captives. Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? opens on an abandoned army barracks by a beautiful ocean. The space, uninhabited for years, remains isolated and provides kidnapper Thomas the opportunity to begin his quest for absolution.
He starts his first conversation with a kidnapped astronaut who he may or may not have met years before. In this exchange, he lets the astronaut know he means no harm. He has questions. He wants answers. If his abductee responds honestly, he can go home. But those questions lead Thomas to have thoughts that connect to the next person. So off he goes to kidnap another individual, which starts a chain reaction of abductions, more questions and more answers. By novel's end, he has seven people chained to posts in seven separate rooms.
Through their interconnected narratives, Eggers builds a story so intricate that it seems based on action rather than conversation. Eggers paints a portrait of a man confused by the various factions that have consumed the world. “A whole religion based on accountability,” Thomas' mom describes it. But Thomas isn't sure that people are held accountable. He delves into the various sins and motives with each person, among them his mother, whom he brings to the barracks to explain why she couldn't provide the love and devotion a child deserves. Little by little, Thomas comes to understand that a person doesn't always get what he wants—and we, the readers following his half-mad journey, don't always get the closure we seek.
It's difficult to say anything more without giving away major plot points, but the novel does dive into a past event that has rendered Thomas unable to cope with the realities of the world, an event that is somehow connected to each of these seven strangers. Readers will question whether Thomas is a psychotic or merely a questioning man pushed to the brink. The novel doesn't paint the clearest of pictures; in a world of black and white, some people find their home in the gray areas. Eggers uses Thomas to show that when existing in these spaces, outside the lines of civil society, the outcomes will sometimes flatten you. At one point, Thomas says, “So I just walk around in an already-built world? That's a joke.” To which his abductee responds, “That's the joke you live in.”
Within 212 pages, Eggers displays a delicate, haunting, sometimes dire picture of the world. It may not be a comfortable read, but it's an interesting take on what we believe to be true and what we hope to be true.