Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Parade (book)

Pengo’s 2020 Summer Book Club

I have been lazily making my way through The Mirror and the Light, the third book in Hillary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy. My wife got it for me in March, the perfect quarantine tome, but I have been reading maybe one page a night.

It doesn’t have the urgency that the first two books did, dispatching More and then Boleyn (spoilers? sorry?) We already know who loses their head at the end of this book, and the road is paved with clues as to how this may be justified. But it meanders mightily as Mantel’s dedication to historical reality means acknowledging characters and episodes who do not edify as the crafty Howards did.

Anyway, we’re on vacation and I intentionally left that at home. I wanted a beach read, and intended to pull something (with a soft cover) from the shelf but neglected to do so. But there are several books here, my son had a copy of The Parade by Dave Eggers lying around, so I picked that up yesterday morning and read the whole thing in a matter of hours.

It’s not terribly long, 180 pages or so, but I could literally not put it down. Even when not reading it, it was tucked under my arm. I went from beach to hammock to adirondack chair, and I was not going to stop reading until it was through.

The plot is focused tightly on a nameless protagonist who works for a private contractor for a construction corporation with ties to the (presumably but never-definitively-stated as U.S.) military whose mission is to pave a road through a small nation, also never identified, which has recently suffered through a civil war.

Reading I was reminded of the kind of novel they would assign in middle or high school, your Red Badge of Courage or Heart of Darkness, following one man through a dark journey of the soul. The man (who refers to himself as “Four,” because having no identity makes you less valuable to kidnappers) follows his assignment to the letter, years of corporate oversight determining how best to not get tangled in local affairs.

But as events spiral out of control, his humanity is slowly revealed, and he comes to trust and even admire those he encounters. The devastating conclusion, one which was always apparent if I had only been paying attention, reveals itself only in the final page, which I had to read three times to believe what I had just experienced.

Except for a few brief descriptions of sexual activity, I would absolutely think this novel is appropriate for an English curriculum, dealing as it does with the harsh 21st century realities of the post-colonial world, with serious questions about ethics and the accepting the consequences of our actions.

Also, many works in canon have troubling, distorted views of people of color, and as I was reading this one I felt as though those earlier works were being picked apart.

I dig Dave Eggers, even though I haven’t read much of his work. Might magazine was a big hit around our child-free, Gen X, late-90s house (he’s my wife’s age) and I certainly enjoyed Heartbreaking Work but then haven’t picked up anything else. Someone even gave me a copy of the DVD for Where the Wild Things Are but we never watched it because it’s inappropriate for children, and while I appreciate the irony now the kids are grown we no longer have a DVD player.

I should read another of his books. Recommendations welcome.

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