ACCLAIM FORYou Shall Know Our Velocity!
A New York Times Notable Book
A Village Voice, San Jose Mercury News
,and Minneapolis Star Tribune
Best Book of the Year
“The bottom line that matters is this: Eggers has written a terrific novel, an entertainingand imaginative tale.”
—The Boston Globe
“You Shall Know Our Velocity achieves a kind of anguished, profane poetry…. It’s so good tohear Eggers’ voice.”
“There are some wonderful set-pieces here, and memorable phrases tossed on the ground likeunwanted pennies from the guy who runs the mint.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“If Holden Caulfield had been a child of the frequent-flyer era, he would have found fellowtravelers in Will and Hand, the buddies Eggers sends ping-ponging around the globe.”
“Eggers’ writing really takes off—his forte is the messy, funny tirade, stuffed withconvincing pain and wry observation.”
“Eggers can write about pretty much anything and make it glitter and somersault on the page.He can do suspense. He can do lyric description. And he can do entertaining travelogues.”
—The New York Times
“Somewhere between a winded heave and a mantric sigh…. Casts Eggers as an impressive first-time novelist with a stunning handle on language and a loudly beating heart.”
“Think of MTV’s Jackass as scripted by Samuel Beckett…. Punctuated by surprising, elegantlyrics: similes, epiphanies, gorgeous writing…. A messy, funny book.”
You Shall Know Our Velocity!
Dave Eggers is the founder of McSweeney’s, a small group that sells taxidermy equipment andalso produces books, a literary quarterly and The Believer, a monthly review. McSweeney’s,
based in San Francisco, is also home to 826 Valencia, a nonprofit educational center for BayArea youth, which also sells pirate supplies. Eggers’s first book was A Heartbreaking Work of
, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This is his first novel.Staggering Genius
ALSO BY DAVE EGGERS
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
The Best American Nonrequired Reading:
Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Campand Other Essays from Might Magazine
This book is dedicated to Beth
EVERYTHING WITHIN TAKES PLACE AFTER JACK DIED AND BEFORE MY MOM AND I DROWNED IN A BURNINGFERRY IN THE COOL TANNIN-TINTED GUAVIARE RIVER, IN EAST-CENTRAL COLOMBIA, WITH FORTY-TWO LOCALSWE HADN’T YET MET. IT WAS A CLEAR AND EYEBLUE DAY, THAT DAY, AS WAS THE FIRST DAY OF THISSTORY, A FEW YEARS AGO IN JANUARY, ON CHICAGO’S NORTH SIDE, IN THE OPULENT SHADOW OF WRIGLEYAND WITH THE WIND COMING LOW AND SEARCHING OFF THE JAGGED HALF-FROZEN LAKE. I WAS INSIDE, VERYWARM, WALKING FROM DOOR TO DOOR.
I was talking to Hand, one of my two best friends, the one still alive, and we were planning toleave. At this point there were good days, good weeks, when we pretended that it was acceptablethat Jack had lived at all, that his life had been, in its truncated way, complete. Thiswasn’t one of those days. I was pacing and Hand knew I was pacing and knew what it meant. Ipaced like this when figuring or planning, and rolled my knuckles, and snapped my fingerssoftly and without rhythm, and walked from the western edge of the apartment, where I wouldlock and unlock the front door, and then east, to the back deck’s glass sliding door, which Iopened quickly, thrust my head through and shut again. Hand could hear the quiet roar of the
door moving back and forth on its rail, but said nothing. The air was arctic and it was Fridayafternoon and I was home, in the new blue flannel pajama pants I wore most days then, indoorsor out. A stupid and nervous bird the color of feces fluttered to the feeder over the deck andate the ugly mixed seeds I’d put in there for no reason and lately regretted—these birdswould die in days and I didn’t want to watch their flight or demise. This building warmeditself without regularity or equitable distribution to its corners, and my apartment, on therear left upper edge, got its heat rarely and in bursts. Jack was twenty-six and died fivemonths before and now Hand and I would leave for a while. I had my ass beaten two weeks ago bythree shadows in a storage unit in Oconomowoc—it had nothing to do with Jack or anything else,really, or maybe it did, maybe it was distantly Jack’s fault and immediately Hand’s—and wehad to leave for a while. I had scabs on my face and back and a rough pear-shaped bump on thecrown of my head and I had this money that had to be disseminated and so Hand and I wouldleave. My head was a condemned church with a ceiling of bats but I swung from this dark mood toeuphoria when I thought about leaving.
“When?” said Hand.
“A week from now,” I said.
“Can you get the week off?”
“I don’t know,” Hand asked. “Can I ask a dumb question?”
“Why not this summer?”
“Or next fall?”
“I’ll pay for it if we go now,” I said. I knew Hand would say yes because for five months wehadn’t said no. There had been some difficult requests but we hadn’t said no.
“And you owe me,” I added.
“What? For—Oh Jesus. Fine.”
“For how long again?” he asked.
“How long can you get off?” I asked.
“Probably a week.” I knew he would do it. Hand would have quit his job if they refused thetime off. He had a decent arrangement now, as a security supervisor on a casino on the riverunder the Arch, but for a while, in high school, he’d been the Number Two–ranked swimmer inall of Wisconsin, and he expected that kind of glory going forward. He’d never focused againlike he’d focused then, and now he was a dabbler, with some experience as a recordingengineer, some in car alarms, some in weather futures (true, long story), some as acarpenter—we’d actually worked on one summer gig together, a porch on an enormousgingerbread-looking place on Lake Geneva—but he left any job where he wasn’t learning or whenhis dignity, however defined, was anywhere compromised.
“Then a week,” I said. “We’ll do what we can in a week.”
I lived in Chicago, Hand in St. Louis, though we were both from Milwaukee, or just outside. Wewere born there, three months apart, and our dads bowled together, before mine was gone the
first time, before his started playing drums, wearing suspenders and leather vests. We didn’ttalk about our fathers.
We called the airlines that offered single-fare tickets with unlimited travel. The ticketsallowed unrestricted flying as long as you kept going one direction, once around the globewithout turning back. You usually have twelve months to complete the circuit, but we’d have todo it in a week. They cost $3,000 each, a number out of the reach of people like us undernormal circumstances, in rational times, but I had gotten some money about a year before, in awindfall kind of way, and had been both grateful and constantly confused by it. And now I wouldget rid of it, or most of it, and believed purging would provide clarity, and that doing thisin a quick global flurry would make it … I really don’t know why we combined these two ideas.We just, blindly and without self-doubt, figured we would go all the way around, once, in aweek, starting in Chicago, ideally hitting Saskatchewan first, then Mongolia, then Yemen, thenRwanda, then Madagascar—maybe those last two switched around—then Siberia, then Greenland,then home. Easy.
“This’ll be good,” said Hand.
“It will,” I said.
“How much are we getting rid of again?”
“I think $38,000.”
“Is that including the tickets?”
“So we’re actually giving away what—$32,000?”
“Something like that,” I said.
“How are you going to bring it? Cash?”
“And then we give it to who?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet. I think it’ll be obvious when we get there.”
And if we kept traveling west, we’d lose very little time. We could easily make our way aroundthe world in a week, with maybe five stops along the way—the hours elapsed would in part bevoided by the crossing, always westerly, of time zones. From Saskatchewan we’d get toMongolia, we figured, having lost only two or three hours riding the Arctic Circle. We wouldoppose the turning of the planet and refuse the setting of the sun.
The itinerary changed on each of the four days we had to decide, on the phone, with meconsulting a laminated pocket atlas and Hand in St. Louis with his globe, a huge thing, thesize of a beach ball, which spun wildly between poles—he’d bumped into it one late night andit was no longer smooth—and which dominated his living room.
Chicago to Saskatchewan to Mongolia
Mongolia to Qatar
Qatar to Yemen
Yemen to Madagascar
Madagascar to Rwanda
Rwanda to San Francisco to Chicago.
We liked that one. But it was too warm, too concentrated in one latitude. The next one, withadjustments:
Chicago to San Francisco to Mongolia
Mongolia to Yemen
Yemen to Madagascar
Madagascar to Greenland
Greenland to Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan to San Francisco to Chicago.
We’d solved the warmth problem, but went too far the other way. We needed better contrast,
more back and forth, more up and down, while always heading west. The third itinerary:
Chicago to San Francisco to Micronesia
Micronesia to Mongolia
Mongolia to Madagascar
Madagascar to Rwanda
Rwanda to Greenland
Greenland to San Francisco to Chicago.
That one had everything. Political intrigue, a climactical buffet. We began, separately at
home, plugging the locations into various websites listing fares and timetables.
There was something wrong with the timetable. He’d entered in the destinations, but every time
we left San Francisco—we had to stop there en route from Chicago—we’d end up in Mongolia not
days later.a few hours later, but two damned
“How can that be?”
“I figured it out,” Hand said.
“You know what it is?”
“I’m going to lay it on you.”
“The international date line,” he said.
“The international date line!”
“Fuck the international date line!” I said.
“Can we do that?” he asked.
“I don’t know. How does it work again?”
“Well, New Zealand is the farthest point, time-wise, in the world. They see the new year
first. Which means that if we’re traveling west from Chicago, we’re doing pretty well in
terms of saving time all the way until New Zealand. But once we get past there, we’re a day
ahead. A full day ahead.”
“We lose a whole day.”
“If we leave Wednesday, we land Friday.”
“So it won’t help to be going west,” I said.
“Not much. Not at all, really.”
We called an airline representative. She thought we were assholes. If we wanted to get aroundthe world in a week, she said, we’d be in the air seventy percent of the trip. Even if wefollowed the sun, we’d still be hemorrhaging hours all over the Pacific.
“We have to go east,” said Hand.
“Maybe we go east, then west,” I said.
“We can’t. We have to keep going the same direction to get the fare.”
The next itinerary:
Chicago to New York to Greenland
Greenland to Rwanda
Rwanda to Madagascar
Madagascar to Mongolia
Mongolia to Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan to New York to Chicago.
“But we’re losing time each flight,” I said. “Each flight is basically double the time thisway.”
“Hell. You’re right.”
“We have to drop the destinations down to four maybe. Or make them shorter.”
“This blows,” Hand said. “We have a whole week and we have to drop Mongolia. These planesare too fucking slow. When did planes get so slow?”
Chicago to New York to Greenland
Greenland to Rwanda
Rwanda to Madagascar
Madagascar to Qatar
Qatar to Yemen
Yemen to Los Angeles to Chicago.
But there were no flights from Greenland to Rwanda. Or Rwanda to Madagascar.
“Bullshit,” I said.
“I know, I know.”
Or Madagascar to Qatar. There was one from Saskatchewan to New York. And one from Mongolia toSaskatchewan. But nothing from Greenland to Rwanda. We were bent. Why wouldn’t there be aflight from Greenland to Rwanda? Almost everything, even Rwanda to Madagascar, had to gothrough someplace like Paris or London. We didn’t want to be in Paris or London. Or Beijing,which is where they wanted us to stop en route to Mongolia.
“This is like the Middle Ages,” Hand said.
“I had no idea,” I said.
We had to scale back again. We started over.
“Let’s just go,” said Hand. “We get the big ticket and then make it up as we go. We don’thave to plan it all out.”
“Good,” I said.
But no. The airline insisted on knowing the exact airports we’d visit along the way. Wedidn’t need to provide precise dates or times, but they needed the destinations so they couldcalculate the taxes.
“The taxes?” Hand said.
“I didn’t know they could do that.”
We decided to skip the pre-planned round-the-world tickets. We’d start in Mongolia and just gofrom there. We’d land and then just hit the airports when we were ready to leave. Or betteryet, we’d land, and while still at the airport, get our tickets out. The new plan feltgood—it was more in keeping with the overall idea, anyway—that of unmitigated movement, ofserving any or maybe every impulse. Once in Mongolia, we’d see what was flying out and go. Itcouldn’t cost all that much more, we figured. How much could it cost? We had no idea. All Ineeded was to get around the world in a week, make it through Mongolia at some point, and be inMexico City in eight days, for a wedding—Jeff, a friend of ours from high school, was marryingLupe, who only Jeff called Guad, whose family lived in Cuernavaca. Huge wedding, I was told.
“You were invited?” Hand said.
“You weren’t?” I said.
I don’t know why Hand wasn’t invited. Could I bring him? Probably not. We’d done that oncebefore, at another friend’s wedding, in Columbus—we figured maybe they just didn’t have hisaddress, so I brought him—and only once we arrived did we realize why Hand hadn’t been giventhe nod in the first place. Hand was blond and tall and dark-eyed, I guess you’d say doe-eyed,was well-liked by women and for better and worse had a ceaseless curiosity that swung its netliberally over everything from science to even the most sensitive and trusting women. So he’dslept with too many people, including the bride’s sister Sheila, soft-shouldered andromantic—and it hadn’t ended well, and Hand, being Hand, had forgotten it all, the connectionbetween Sheila and the bride and so it was awkward, that wedding, so clumsy and wrong. It wasmy fault, then and as it always is, in some uncanny way, every time Hand’s combination oflust—for women, for arcana and conspiracy and space travel—and plain raw animal stupiditybrings us, inevitably, in the path of harm and ruin.
But did we really have to get around the world? We decided that we didn’t. We’d see what wecould see in six, six and a half days, and then go home. We didn’t know yet where exactly tostart—we were leaning toward Qatar—but Hand knew where to end.
o“Cairo,” he said, sending the second syllable through a thin long tunnel of breath, the full of melancholy and hope.
“We finish the trip on the top of Cheops,” he said.
“They still let you climb the pyramids?”
“We bribe a guard early in the morning or at sunset. I read about this. Everyone in Giza isbribable.”
“Okay,” I said. “That’s it then. We end at the pyramids.”
“Oh man,” Hand said, almost in a whisper. “I always wanted to go to Cheops. I can’t believeit.”
I called Cathy Wambat, my mom’s high school friend, a travel agent with a name that spawned ahundred crank calls. They’d been raised in Colorado, she and my mom, in Fort Collins, whichI’d never seen but always pictured with the actual fort, hewn from area lumber and stillwalling the pioneers from the natives. Now Cathy Wambat lived in Hawaii, where apparently allthe travel agents who matter now lived. After hearing the plan, she thought we were assholestoo, though in a cheerful way, and made the reservations—two one-way flights from Cairo,Hand’s continuing from New York to St. Louis and mine to Mexico City.
We had to figure out where to start. Hand called again.
“Visas,” he said.
“Visas,” he said again, now with venom.
Half the destinations were thrown out. Saskatchewan was fine but Rwanda and Yemen wanted them.What was the difference between a passport and a visa? I didn’t know exactly but knew therewas a wait involved—three days, a week—and this was time we didn’t have. Mongolia needed avisa. Qatar, in a ludicrous show of hubris for a country the shape and size of a thumb, wanteda visa that would take a week to process. We were only three days away from the time Hand hadtaken off work.
He called again. “Greenland doesn’t want a visa.”
“Okay,” I said. “That’s where we start.”
The tickets were deadly cheap, about $400 each from O’Hare. Winter rates, said the GreenlandAir woman. We signed on and got ready. Hand would drive up from St. Louis Friday and we’dleave Sunday, for a city that we couldn’t find in a dictionary or atlas. The flight stoppedfirst in Ottawa, then at Iqaluit—on Baffin Island—before landing at Kangerlussuaq sometimearound midnight. We agreed to limit the bags to one each—nothing checked, nothing awaited orlost. We’d both bring small backpacks—not backpacker backpacks, just standard ones, meant forbooks and beach towels.
“Coats?” asked Hand.
“No,” I said. “Layers.”
The cold in Chicago that January was three-dimensional, alive, predatory, so we’d head to theairport in everything we were bringing. We’d pack cheap disposable clothes so if we ever madeit to Madagascar we could just dump the heavier stuff there. Then up to Cairo in T-shirts andempty bags.
“Okay,” said Hand. “You sure you want to pay for all this?”
“Yes. I need it gone.”
“Because I don’t want you doing this as some weird purging bullshit thing. This doesn’t haveanything to do with anything—”
“See you tomorrow.”
I hung up the phone, jubilant, and threw myself into a wall, then pretended to be gettingelectrocuted. I do this when I’m very happy.
On Saturday I had to babysit my cousin Jerry’s twins, Mo and Thor, eight-year-old girls. Jerrywas the only relative I had in Chicago. My mom had left Colorado to marry my father, leavingher parents, now dead, and three sisters and four brothers, all of whom stayed in or aroundFort Collins. And now that Tommy—my six-years-older brother, with his own garage andmustache—was grown, my mom had moved to Memphis, to be near some old friends and take classesin anthropology. Jerry, my Aunt Terry’s son, the third of five, was the family’s firstlawyer, with his picture in the yellow pages, and had married Melora, whose severity—she spokeonly in hisses—was confounded by her small frame, that of a fourteen-year-old boy.
Jerry and Melora knew I was pretty much always around and available, so I got the nod and Handand I brought Mo and Thor with us to get clothes and sundries. Jerry’s delicate wife hated mynames for her girls but I wasn’t about to call two eight-year-olds, hyper kids who talked alot, who liked to run ahead on the sidewalks and didn’t mind being thrown around, goddamnedPersephone and Penelope.
They were dropped off, with a honk from Melora. We found them at the door to my building.They’d met Hand three times before but didn’t remember him.
“You don’t look as bad,” Mo said to me, her puffy pink coat swallowing her. I pulled thezipper down a few inches and she exhaled.
“It’s getting better,” I said.
“Now your eyes are blue,” Thor added, though my eyes were always brown and were still brown.She stepped toward me and I knelt before her. “And this is new,” she said, touching my nose,the red crooked stripe running down the bone.
“That was already there, idiot!” Mo said.
“Was not,” Thor said.
“It was there,” I said, trying to settle things, “but it’s darker now. You’re bothright.”
We walked to a nouveau-outdoors store humid with nylon and velcro, energy bars and carabinersand a climbing wall no one used. Hand and I needed pants, pants to end all pants—warm andcool, breathing and trapping in, full of pockets. I got a standard pair of khakis, though withmultiple pockets—the safari-photographer kind with the big rectangular compartments withzippers and velcro, two on each leg. Hand burst from the dressing room loudly swishing—hispants were wide, shiny and synthetic, in a grey that looked silver.
“You look like a jogger,” I said.
“They’re comfortable,” he said.
“Like a jogger with a dump in his pants.”
feel“Yeah,” Hand said, soaking his thumb in saliva and jamming it in Mo’s ear, “but I fast.”
The twins ran free and everything in the store looked essential. A tiny lightweight flashlightto attach to a keychain. Beef jerky. A first-aid kit. Secret pouches for money and passports.Bandannas. Mini-fans. Insect repellent. I avoided eyes, tried to save everyone the trouble ofseeing me. My face wasn’t as bad as it had been a few weeks ago, but it was still busted inplaces, and the bridge of my nose dropped blue shadows into my eye sockets, lending me acrosseyed or cycloptic look. I appeared as I was: a guy who’d been given an ass whipping bythree guys in a steel box.
“You’re limping still,” Hand said.
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s not that bad,” he said. “Just a little creepy is all.”
Hand had ten bandannas, five for each of us. Bandannas, he said, were what every traveler cameback wishing they’d had more of. “You’ll thank me,” he said. He said this a lot, You’ll
. I don’t remember actually needing to thank him all that much, ever.thank me
Mo and Thor returned from their explorations, hair matted, sweaters tied around their waists.They wanted to leave.
“Who wants to leave?” I asked Thor. “You, Mo?”
“I’m Thor,” Thor said.
“Who’s Thor?” I asked.
“I am!” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t tell you people apart.”
“But we’re fraternal twins!” she said.
Mo rolled her eyes. “Fraternal twins! You know that, stupid.”