August 7, 2020: “Your Mother and I” by Dave Eggers

And a good Friday to you, Story366!

Today we spent another day in Galena, Illinois. We spent the prime part of the day walking the Main Street shopping district, a mile of fudge shops, burger joints, sports memorabilia stores, and art galleries. We had a couple of prime meals, bought a six-pack of micro-brewed root beer, picked out some salsa, horseradish sauce, and orange kurd from a salsa, sauce, and kurd store, and got ice cream to boot. We swam in the enormous hotel pool, which we had to ourselves. We tried to go to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential House, but there was a long line, as they were only allowing one family/group in at a time (which we appreciate). That line was in the sun, with nowhere to sit, and in the time we were there, the line didn’t move. That’s when we decided to head back to the for that swim instead. We will try to hit up the Grant house on the way out of town tomorrow, as hey, a president used to live there, and they probably have the nicest public restrooms in town.

For today’s entry, I read from Dave Eggers‘ collection, How We Are Hungry, out in 2004 from McSweeney’s Publishing. I’ve read plenty of Eggers’ work before, including his memoir epic, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and a novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, but not any stories, not necessarily. Considering how instrumental Eggers is in contemporary letters, inventing McSweeney’s and winning all those awards and publishing all those books, it’s about time I got to him here.

I read several stories from the collection, including the lead story, “Another.” This one’s about this currier who goes to Egypt to deliver a package, then ends up staying. He implies that he’s had some troubles back home, so Egypt is as good a place as any, even though foreigners, especially Americans, aren’t necessarily welcome there right then. After several touristy adventures, he eventually finds a man who is willing to escort him by horseback to the red pyramid. The red pyramid is out in the desert, and between how much the horse is killing his back and the suspicion he’s being led out to be robbed and murdered, he’s relieved when they arrive at this new pyramid. Then his guide takes him further out, to another obscure pyramid, its journey even more painful and unfulfilling than the last. Yet, when they’re done exploring that one and the man asks to go even further, on to another pyramid, our guy can’t resist.

“After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned” is told from the perspective of an Irish setter, and basically depicts what it advertises. I know I’ve seen this story in anthologies before, and when I started, I was convinced I’d read it, but as it turns out, no, I hadn’t.

I also read a bunch of shorts, several stories between the longer ones that all ran two pages long. I especially liked “On Wanting to Have Three Walls Up Before She Gets Home” and “She Waits, Seething, Blooming,” as they explore some domestic emergencies from a peculiar, insightful, and disturbing angle, otherwise known as realism.

The story I’ll focus on today seems the least realistic of all that I read (and yes I’m including the narrating-dog story) and I liked it the best. It’s called “Your Mother and I” and is a stylized monologue, told from the perspective of an activist dad, regaling his adultish daughter with tales of his exploits, his and his wife’s good deeds. He also seems to be making some kind of cheesy salsa dip at the same time, as if the family’s gotten together to watch a game or play Boggle (which makes me wonder why all stylized monologues don’t have elaborate blockings and substories like this one does).

The dad’s accomplishments start off believable ehough, because really, why not believe what we’re told? Firstly, he claims responsibility for the world turning completely to hydro, solar, and windpower, to basically solving the energy crisis and ending lots of pollution at the same time. He’s cocky about it, too, slaps himself on the back for being awesome, which is okay—clean energy is the bomb. But his bragging is his character—that and his ability to make this mouth-watering dip.

Dad moves on to his later deeds, such as painting all the roads red, deporting all lobbyists, and getting rid of genocide in the world. He just keeps stacking these things on top of each other as if he’s talking about working in the yard, stopping to grate cheese and be sure to give credit to Mom once in a while, too.

After genocide is solved—a bad-ass UN taskforce of two hundred elite troops is assembled—they have some more fun. They cover Cleveland in ivy. They make people recite poetry. They get rid of all billboards on earth. Then they fix minimum wage. Then they start to tackle diseases. Then they put waterslides in all elementary schools. They have priorities.

He also indicates that all this good-doing made them really horny, implying that after these incidents is when they conceived their children, drawing groans and frowns from his particular audience.

Eggers establishes a real rhythm here, making the pace really fly. It also makes these tall tales more pallatable. I don’t know if I’m supposed believe any of it, but while I was reading I sure did—and I got hungry for that dip. By the story’s end, Eggers pulls it all together, his speaker going into soliloquy mode, but not before serving the dip with some nacho chips, because yeah, we can’t have a Checkov’s dip now, can we?

Dave Eggers can be deathly funny and serious at the same time, hence a funny memoir about his parents’ deaths. How We Are Hungry has an eclectice grouping of stories, showing that he has as much range as any author I’ve read, with some of his publishing parodies thrown in—present here are some standard Eggers colophon hijinx. On the inside cover, there is what seems like an handwritten inscription, from someone named Laura to someone named “baby,” a loving dedication, and I can’t figure out if that’s a real inscription or just one of Eggers’ jokes. Nevertheless, I liked every second I spent with this book today, as I never knew what to expect, never knew what I was reading as I read it, and still am not sure what to make of everything. But that’s one of the things that makes books great, irascible spontaneity, and this is a great book.