by Dave Eggers
In The Parade, two foreign contractors are sent to an unnamed country to build a road from its poor south to the capital in the north, to be finished in time for a military parade in celebration of the end of years of civil war. The workers are sent in without identification, even known only to each other by codenames, all to protect them from potential kidnappers they may encounter along the way. The older, experienced worker, known simply as Four, avoids interactions with the locals and stops his work only to eat and sleep in order to get the job done ahead of schedule and get home. His partner, Nine, sees the job as an adventure, stopping at every turn to experience the local people and culture, including all matter of things prohibited within the country or by his employer. After illness and run-ins with corrupt locals cause the schedule and their safety to become jeopardized, the two workers have to make tough decisions to complete their task and save their skins in the process.
The Parade is short and straightforward, but Eggers does a lot with little. At its heart, with its main, underlying metaphor, the story feels like a contemporary retelling of Nikolai Gogol’s famous story The Overcoat, but this never pulls focus from the superficial narrative. Everything anyone says and does works hard to ooze so much character out of all the main players, and it evokes a strong, emotional weight by the end. It greatly impressed me that all this could be accomplished within such a compact story, something I can’t recall experiencing since Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.
In the last few years, I realize I’ve more and more been disappointed by books that try to do too much or those that do things ineffectively, where authors feel a need to point to moments and underline for us that we should have a reaction where we didn’t, that things should be strongly felt without earning that feeling. I’ve been putting forward this idea that writing with a push for elegant simplicity in a narrative sometimes accomplishes leaps and bounds more––meaningfully, emotionally––than a forcing of significance can hope to hit on. And, with The Parade, I’m happy to have another functional example I can point at to demonstrate this concept.