In an unnamed country at an unknown time, two men get to work building a road. Their names are assigned by their company: Four has worked for the company on many jobs; Nine is new. Both are naïve in their own way, with Four putting on blinders and following orders to the letter and Nine oblivious to the ramifications of eschewing protocol.
The Parade (Knopf) initially feels like Dave Eggers wrote it for the stage. The writing, outside of Nine’s verbose bouts of dialogue, is simple and sparse. For the first several chapters, the story is as minimal and utilitarian as can be. Two characters. Two locations.
The reader experiences the droll day-to-day of the company contractors through the eyes of Four, who goes to sleep early each night and only learns about the debauchery going on nearby from Nine. And then Nine disappears, and the world Eggers has built immediately opens up.
There’s a familiarity to this novel that allows it to protect some of its world’s ambiguity. Evoking “Waiting for Godot” early on with its two protagonists, unfamiliar with the territory and tasked with a goal that seemingly affords them a great deal of leisure time (Nine takes his; Four sleeps), Eggers sidesteps frivolous exposition.
Little by little, the reader grasps the information they need: there was a war. The nation is rebuilding. There are still rebels. The rebels still oppose the nation. The road that Four and Nine are building leads to the capital, and the sheer simplicity of their assignment is never questioned by either of them.
They are told that once the road is built, there will be a parade. They are building a road for a parade, and then they will return home.
Eggers’ dry wit makes life under fascist rule feel so acceptable and status quo that the reader rarely questions things that might otherwise give them pause. Four begins to enter the woods in one chapter, only to realize he ought to turn back to avoid stepping on a landmine. Nine helps find a crashed plane, and the townspeople nearby are overjoyed to be able to craft clothing from a discarded parachute.
If there’s one thing that this novel does best, it’s irony. It feels like a Soviet-era slice-of-life story, albeit ostensibly set in the future. War crimes are shrugged off or ignored, and the reader cannot expect their shock to be reflected in the characters: Four and Nine are desensitized, we are not.
When the novel allows itself to have fun, it’s at the expense of its own world. And why shouldn’t Eggers tear that world down? He created it for that very purpose, just as Four and Nine have their own designated purposes that they will never rise above. Author is creator is country here.
This brief read is over before it begins, and it will continue to entertain you long after you’ve closed the cover, right up until the events of the twelve days spent with Four and Nine sink in, along with a sickening sense of dread.
The Parade will be available for purchase on March 19, 2019.
About Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers is the author of many books, including The Circle, The Monk of Mokha, What is the What, A Hologram for the King, and The Lifters.
He is founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a humor website, and a journal of new writing, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world.
Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of youth writing and tutoring centers around the United States. Numerous other organizations worldwide operate with inspiration from the 826 National model. Realizing the need for greater college access for low-income students, Eggers founded ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible.