The crisis of modernity is questioned with a strong dose of chloroform in this taut experimental novel. Thomas is a young man who is pretty pleased that he’s managed to kidnap an astronaut as he sets up his interrogation room in an abandoned military base. Chained to a pillar, the astronaut is told he’ll be tasered if he doesn’t answer Thomas’ questions. What begins as a hostage situation slowly becomes a vehicle to reveal Thomas’ motivations and life-story. The astronaut turns out to be Thomas’ former graduate teacher and that they once exchanged a few words. In Thomas’ archetypal role as a loner, most of his hostages can barely remember him and he emerges from the background of their lives. Eggers hints at Thomas’ motives for each kidnapping, but resists everything tying together too neatly.
The most interesting aspect of the novel is the minimalist structure. The entire novel is made up of dialogue that makes the work feel closer to reading a play without the anticipation of a performance or re-interpretation. Eggers succeeds in creating dialogue that doesn’t labour the exposition and gives the reader enough to be gripped. Each character is recognisable purely by their speech, which makes the structure so well-constructed that the reader never struggles to keep track of events. The well-place gaps between lines are full of implication and we are given no sense of how much time has elapsed between Thomas’ interrogation sessions.
It isn’t long after the astronaut that we are introduced to more characters as the rooms at the base begin to be filled with hostages. The conversations that ensue are often springboards for Thomas to try and put the world to rights: complaining that there’s no purpose for his generation and ennui about modern America that shifts the hostage drama into polemic territory. Just as The Circle made Egger’s views on modernity take centre stage, Thomas’ frustrated rants try and catch the reader in agreement. The exchanges with a Vietnam veteran turned politician swat away Thomas’ pining for tradition and ridicules any nostalgia for American values. Along with sometimes static conversations about ‘useless wars’ and military honour, Eggers brings in vivid scenes of deceit, abuse and violence through the questions that Thomas puts to his victims.
Patience for Thomas’ reasoning will largely depend on the readers’ tolerance for Holden Caulfield: they share a whiney attitude to authority and are quick to embrace victimhood. However, being irritated and provoked by Thomas is half of the enjoyment in Your Fathers…. The title itself reflects the paternal themes of the work: Thomas does not know his father and yearns for guidance from a paternal figures or the state itself. Thomas’ actions are almost justified by the death of his friend, until his mother (also a hostage) reveals they weren’t close at all: Daddy issues and misplaced injustice make Thomas’ reasons for hostage taking comic and infuriating. Whether Thomas is the victim of modern America or an allegory for it is just one interpretation that opens the work to even more questions than Thomas can throw out.
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is a superbly constructed novel that exhibits Eggers’ skill in crafting characters and dialogue.