The fact that Dave Eggers is a celebrated literary figure is no secret but reading his work, especially How We Are Hungry, always feels like a very private act.
The sparse, punchy prose in this collection of 16 short stories drive to the heart of what people hunger for: love, acceptance, companionship, approval, that thing they feel will fill that growing hole in the soul. I’m not normally a massive fan of short story collections as I am often left feeling unfulfilled; if the idea and the story is good enough, I (selfishly) want the character’s lives to continue and so I frequently end up feeling short-changed. Here, however, not a single world is wasted in creating small worlds of flawed, fascinating and wholly relatable characters, that feel complete and end where and when they are supposed to. I hope this is not too laboured a metaphor but it often feels like the stories are skeletons for an array of different animals, to which you add your own flesh and colours as you read, creating a personal and intimately reflective zoo.
As with much of his other work, particularly A Hearbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, Eggers tries to push the art of story-telling a little further. Notes For A Story Of A Man Who Will Not Die Alone, is, as the title says, made up of simple, sketched notes. ‘Simple’ however does not do the passage justice as it contains as much thought and nuance as the much, and rightly, celebrated Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly, which at 60 pages takes up a quarter of the book.
The apotheosis of Egger’s economy with words is There Are Some Things He Should Keep To Himself, which is the very bare bones of a skeleton. For some, I can see that this ‘story’ might be a step too far, and a step into the land of literary pretension. For my money, Eggars stays on the right side of the line by virtue of the quality, beauty and sheer elegance of his writing, and just as often, the elegance of what he didn’t write.