You Shall Know Our Velocity!

You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers
351 pages
Genre: Fiction, Adventure
Published by Vintage Books, 2002
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: Possibly worth revisiting. It was very enjoyable from start to finish.

Reviewed by Pete

Their plan was to give away $32,000 around the world in a week. Their plan did not go very well.

Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity! follows two lifelong friends in their spontaneous, poorly-thought-out journey around the world, stopping in countries for twelve hours at a time to give money to whoever they deem worthy. No one asks for this money, but Will and Hand are eager to get rid of it, turning each encounter into a good deed that never seems to satisfy the protagonists. Dealing with the recent loss of their close friend Jack, they set off on an adventure that they’re pretty sure is heroic.

You Shall Know Our Velocity! drew me in from the start with its numerous questions—What happened to Will’s face? Where did Will get this money? Why does he want to get rid of it?—and leaves me with just as many by the end.

This isn’t my first Eggers novel, so I was prepared for the absurd, but it still managed to catch me off guard. Our protagonists are such incompetent planners that it comes as a shock when they arrive in one piece in Senegal, and when they manage to take flight again in just 24 hours. Everything about their journey feels as if it’s barely holding together, including their friendship. I cringed during their awkward good deeds— throwing mixed currencies at whomever they could. It was such a simple, brute-force attempt at good, and I felt just as uncomfortable after each exchange as the protagonists did. Even more uncomfortable was Hand’s attempt to mimic the accent of everyone he spoke with. Their adventure is forced, but the writing is natural, and by the end of the book I was beginning to understand the clunky, well-intended logic behind their journey around the world.

Eggers succeeds in blending humor and drama as well as ever, and I was often uncomfortable with how much Will’s flawed logic aligned with my own. It’s easy to identify big problems in the world but much harder to fix them.

This book was a chaotic ride that threatens to lose control at any moment. I was a bit let down by an ending that felt inconclusive in both theme and characters—but there wasn’t a moment of You Shall Know Our Velocity! that I didn’t enjoy.

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