Dave Egger’s The Parade

We are in a third world country that has been devastated by civil war. Its state is barely functional and beyond the capital there is societal chaos as well as signs of life renewing itself. Two contractors are assigned by a vaporous multinational to build a highway from the more developed north, where the capital is, to the entropic southland.

The rules from the Company are: don’t mix with the natives, don’t get personal, do your job as far as possible while being uninvolved with the surroundings. The central experienced character is called “Four”, his nominal underling, a raw and unsuitable recruit, is “Nine”. They left their names at home and wear anonymous black jumpsuits. There’s no corporate logo on their stuff. They are meant to work invisibly and get out. Sound like some black ops deal? No, they are just building a road.

It was telling that when Nine asks Four if he’s married, Four says “No”. Four is married with kids but he’s not sharing. Also definitional is that greenhorn Nine won’t stop talking, eating the native food, one of his many corporate violations, drinking the water, chatting up the natives, since he knows the language, giving away their phone and med supplies, since the locals need them more than he does, and sleeping with whichever local women please him and will have him.

Meanwhile veteran Four is sitting in the paving vehicle’s cab eating desiccated food powders from the company and being assaulted by fugue states in which he demonizes Nine and fires him again and again.

It’s not a surprise that Nine’s larking around leads to life threatening consequences. Nine either eats or drinks something he shouldn’t and becomes deathly ill. Four is forced, strenuously against his will, to interact with the locals.

Eggers is a master of leading the reader on. Effective storytellers can lure you to the next page to find out what happens next. We naturally want to have hope for Four and Nine. It’s our survival instinct brought into play. If we thought situations were hopeless then we would give up. Like in an old-time suspense thriller, Eggers is often making loud noises to scare us and letting events work out better than we expected. Then he crashes and burns the plot. A bit formulaic?

The ending? I don’t like surprise endings. I think they are pat. Besides, once you know who killed Roger Ackroyd, the thrill is gone. I don’t like “endings” at all. Reality resolves nothing, except the dying part of it. Everything else is stage play.

The fact that some developing countries are subject to poor governance, aided and abetted by multinational corporations, is not news. V. S. Naipaul has said it better, and more to the point, is a better writer. I liked The Parade-my conviction that Dave Eggers is a significant writer has never been shaken by anything of his that I have read, but this is minor stuff.