A New York Times Notable Book
A Village Voice, San Jose Mercury News, and Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year
After the death of a close friend, Will and Hand, thoroughly American products of the late twentieth century, decide to travel around the world to distribute
as quickly and frenetically as possible a whole lot of money. As they maniacally purge their grief, the plot twists from surreal to moving to desperate and back again. Eggers's trademark humor, pathos, and skill are deployed in carefully crafted (if sometimes chaotic) fiction; You Shall Know Our Velocity! is some of his strongest and most ambitious work. Tessa, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In his first novel, Dave Eggers has written a moving and hilarious tale of two friends who fly around the world trying to give away a lot of money and free themselves from a profound loss. It reminds us once again what an important, necessary talent Dave Eggers is.
"[A] headlong, heartsick and footsore first novel....[N]obody writes better than Dave Eggers about young men who aspire to be, at the same time, authentic and sincere....[A] lesser effort [than Heartbreaking], but entirely honorable and ultimately persuasive." John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review
"There are some wonderful set-pieces here, and memorable phrases tossed on the ground like unwanted pennies from the guy who runs the mint." The Washington Post Book World
"[E]ntertaining and profoundly original....Eggers makes a strong argument for the arbitrary quality of wealth, and how difficult it is to redistribute it in a way that is not equally arbitrary. And though he coats this meditation on generosity in his helium-inflected humor, there is a self-reflexive sadness, too." John Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle
"MTV's Jackass, as scripted by Samuel Beckett....The novel's grinding, at times monotonous rock and roll of plane trips and hotel rooms and (often hilarious) bickering...is punctuated by surprising, elegant lyrics....[A] messy, funny book. As always with Eggers, not least interesting is figuring out just who the joke is on." John Homans, New York Magazine
"Will and Hands rapport is so engaging, and its so good to hear Eggers' voice, that Velocity cruises along nicely for quite a while. But soon, for every funny-weird philanthropic adventure...there are tens of pages of deadening, familiar stuff....In its final pages, Velocity achieves a kind of anguished, profane poetry. Its not heartbreaking. Its not staggering. But if Eggers is a question, the answer is still yes." Jeff Giles, Newsweek
"[Will and Hand] treat their life like a madcap movie (Paul Bowles meets Evel Knievel!), but reading Eggers's listless prose feels more like sitting through some unhinged friend's blurry vacation photos....Eggers's novel limps along, strangely static." Joy Press, The Village Voice
"[T]hough Y.S.K.O.V. coasts only on charm for scores of pages at a stretch, at its best, it simply moves and is moving....[F]or every dead passage there's a sterling set piece, an energetic consideration of grief or joy....Despite its emotional depth and inventive structure, [the novel] does not break the heart and seems unlikely to stagger. (Grade: B)" Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly
"Eggers' strengths as a writer are real....At their best, Will and Hand, like Vladimir and Estragon, have genuine existential pathos; at their worst they're a little jejune, a pair of Holden Caulfields railing at the phonies....[T]here's genius here, and if it occasionally staggers, the book deserves our forgiveness and our respect..." Lev Grossman, Time
"Is the book any good? Yes. It's terrific....[T]he delivery is deadpan and heartfelt, the adventures absurdist and valiant....Eggers reaches us with his postcards from a sharp, high edge, and we are grateful." Celia McGee, New York Daily News
About the Author
Dave Eggers is the founder of McSweeney's, a small group that sells taxidermy equipment and also produces books, a literary quarterly, and The Believer, a monthly review. McSweeney's, based in San Francisco, is also home to 826 Valencia, a non-profit educational center for Bay Area youth, which also sells pirate supplies. Eggers's first book was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This is his first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. You Shall Know Our Velocity
contains drawings, photographs, and reproductions of notes and maps that Will and Hand create in the story. How surprising is it to come upon such visual elements in a literary text? What do they add to the novel? In what ways do they challenge the conventions of the novel form?
2. Do Will and Hand decide to take their trip in order to escape their grief over Jacks death, or to confront that grief and possibly transform it? Is their trip an act of penance? What guilt do they feel in relation to Jack?
3. Will received his money for allowing an advertising company to use his silhouette, a shadow image of him screwing in a light bulb. In what ways is this circumstance both meaningful and absurd? What other absurd elements appear in the novel? Does the books humor diminish or deepen its more serious concerns?
4. Will carries on internal conversations and arguments in his head, with Hand, with strangers, with Jack. But hes tired of them. “I wanted the voices silenced and I wanted less of my head generally” [p. 27]. Why is he so tormented by these voices? What does he want instead of the constant arguing? Does he find it by the end of the story?
5. In Estonia, Will questions why he is giving away his money: “Was the point to give it to people who needed it, or just to get rid of it? I knew the answer, of course, but had to remind Hand” [p. 239]. What is the point of giving the money away? Why does Hand need to be reminded?
6. Hand describes at length the nomadic tribe of “Jumping People” in South America. These people believed in “the impermanence of place” [p. 376] and felt that they carried the souls of their dead loved ones on their backs like mountains. In what ways is their story relevant to Will and Hands story? In what instances is jumping, or leaping over, important in the novel? Why has Eggers used the message the Jumping People carved into the cliff above their village, “YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY,” as his title?
7. Will winces at Hands awkwardness when he spills his soda while giving money to a Moroccan family. “What kind of person brings his soda? Youre giving $300 to people in a shack and you bring your soda? Nothing we did ever resembled in any way what wed envisioned” [p. 226]. Why is it so hard to give the money to people gracefully? What are some of their more fanciful ideas about how to deliver the money? Why is the way they give it so important to them?
8. In what sense can the novel be read as an elegy to childhood, or to the lost innocence of childhood? What childhood experiences do Will and Hand remember most vividly? In what ways is their behavior still childlike?
9. Will describes a swarm of birds as “swinging to and fro, overlapping, like a group of sixth graders riding bikes home from school” [p. 101]; and of the smoothness of a Moroccan womans skin, he says: “Next to skin like that, ours seemed so rough, like burlap woven with straw” [p. 220]. Where else does this kind of metaphorical language appear? What does it add to the novel?
10. Near the end of the novel, as they prepare to part, Hand asks Will when he will return from Mexico. Will says he doesnt know but thinks to himself “Im going to keep going” [p. 389]. What does he mean by this? Is he suggesting suicide, the death by drowning referred to in the novels opening sentence?
11. Will is beaten when Hand disappears. Later, in one of his interior dialogues, Will says “Most of being a man is being there, Hand” [p. 347]. Why is “being there” so important for Will? What other absences haunt him? Is Will able to be fully “there” for others?
12. Apart from disencumbering them of Wills money, how does this journey affect Will and Hand? Does it affect them differently? What do they discover about themselves and each other, about the world and their place in it, during the course of their travels?
13. In what ways does Eggers speak for or represent not only his own experience but the sensibility of his generation? How does that sensibility differ from previous generations?
14. Wills mother thinks it is “condescending” to swoop in and give poor people cash, while Will considers that attitude illogical, a defense for her own “inaction” [p. 123]. Is Will right? Is his way of giving better than his mothers support of charities? What is the essential difference between giving something to someone face to face as opposed to giving through a charitable institution? In what sense is the novel, as a whole, an act of giving?
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Dave Eggerss You Shall Know Our Velocity!. We hope they will offer you interesting ways to talk about a novel that is by turns hilarious, grief-stricken, furious, compassionate, and always surprising.