Before you see the movie, take a trip with author Dave Eggers to King Abdullah Economic City in Saudia Arabia and meet American salesman, Alan Clay in this week’s Saturday Read, ‘A Hologram for the King’.
Have you ever had a job in sales? If yes, you know the feeling of dependence on the whim of a sometimes enigmatic client. You have developed a second sense for the competitive pitch of your business rivals. And you have learned to rely on the support of your tech team to execute a demo, make you look good, and help you close the deal. You also know what it’s like to lose, maintain your confidence and uncover the next potential opportunity in the loss.
This 2012 novel is the story of one man’s American Dream on the edge as he pursues his last chance at success in the bewildering global marketplace. If you have not worked in sales, the book cracks open a window into the world of waiting for a face to face meeting with a prospect, in this case, the king.
Alan has the attitude, extremes of confidence and self-doubt, the bi-polar disposition required of all successful sales folk.
“…He was more than that. Some days he was more than that. Some days he could encompass the world. Some days he could see for miles. Some days he climbed over the foothills of indifference to see the landscape of his life and future for what it was: mappable, traversable, achievable. Everything he wanted to do had been done before, so why couldn’t he do it? He could. If only he could engage on a continual basis. If only he could draw up a plan and execute it. He could! He had to believe he could. Of course he did.”
In her June, 2012 review of the book, Michiko Kakutani reflected on the larger themes of the narrative.
“In Mr. Eggers’s telling, the 54-year-old Alan is not just another hapless loser undergoing a midlife crisis. Rather, his sad-funny-dreamlike story unfolds to become an allegory about the frustrations of middle-class America, about the woes unemployed workers and sidelined entrepreneurs have experienced in a newly globalized world in which jobs are being outsourced abroad.”
‘…he has achieved something that is more modest and equally satisfying: the writing of a comic but deeply affecting tale about one man’s travails that also provides a bright, digital snapshot of our times.”
In an interview with Cressida Leyshon, author Eggers described how the story evolved to blend the themes of globalization and the American economy.
“Before I heard about K.A.E.C., I had been kicking around ideas about a character who had been in manufacturing. The idea of Alan having been in bicycle manufacturing arrived next, and was personal to me, given I grew up about twenty miles from the Schwinn factory, which was building great bikes until the eighties on the west side of Chicago. I wanted to explore how an essentially good man like Alan participated in the process of manufacturing moving offshore in the eighties and nineties, slowly making the factories, workers, supply chain, and eventually, himself, unnecessary.”
Tom Hanks is cast as Alan in the movie. The promo photo released early this year captures our hero in the desert, clad in the costume of the everyman salesman, coat and tie, regardless of the environment.
Near the end of the book, Alan utters the mantra of sales.
“…he had to presume goodwill. He had to hope for amnesia.”