The Saturday Read ‘A Hologram for the King’ by Dave Eggers

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.

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Near the end of the book, Alan utters the mantra of sales.

“…he had to presume goodwill. He had to hope for amnesia.”

Three Novelists Create Narratives About Work

It’s the weekend, and if you’re looking for a good story to fill you day, here are three suggestions from three authors who in their respective novels capture our attitudes toward life, work and success. Often we find in the imagination of others, inspiration and understanding of our own lives. These three authors give voice to our expectations of work and success and the inevitable collision with reality.

Meg Wolitzer  ‘The Interestings’

In the summer of 1974 a group of adolescents meet at an arts camp. The narrative follows their progress toward realization of their dreams. Meg Wolitzer  “allows her characters to come to see happiness not as getting what they thought they wanted, but wanting what they’ve wound up having — a definition in which succeeding doesn’t require exceeding.” writes Liesl Schillinger reviewing ‘The Interestings’ for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

“Though I think about work all the time. For me, it’s not just to stay busy. I mean, partly it’s a distraction from what I can’t change. They need me at the studio. When I’m gone, like this week, they all…flail. But mostly it’s because work is just so great to think about. It’s sort of an endless replenishing…If you can’t have a good relationship with somebody then you should at least have a good relationship with your work. Your work should feel like…an incredible person lying next to you in bed.”

Dave Eggers ‘A Hologram for the King’

Dave Egger’s character, Alan Clay is a self-employed consultant who arrives in the Saudi Arabian desert to work on an ambiguous assignment. Alan is a middle management American, looking to regain his self confidence and find meaning in his work.

“…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.”

Joshua Ferris ‘Then We Came To The End’

“We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise.” begins the narrative of Joshua Ferris’ 2007 novel, ‘Then We Came to the End’.

Set in a Chicago advertising agency, this is a story of work and co-workers. It’s a story of the inhumanity of downsizing and the humanity of people who show up every Monday morning for work. He vividly describes the culture of a shrinking organization.

“What little work remained was never any fun….We could enjoy nothing but our own rumoring. Conversation never extended beyond our walls, walls that were closing in on us, and we failed to take stock of anything happening around them…In the last week of August 2001, and in the first ten days of that September, there were more layoffs than in all the months preceding them. But by the grace of god, the rest of us hung on, hating each other more than we ever thought possible.”