Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (San Francisco: McSweeney's Books, 2012), 312pp.
Alan Clay is fifty-four. He's in Saudi Arabia at the King Abdullah Economic City, which sounds grandiose but is instead way under whelming. At KAEC he joins three young techies from Reliant, the world's largest IT supplier. They are there to make a presentation of Reliant's holographic teleconference system to the King, but their first and biggest problem is a weak wi-fi signal. This doesn't sound good. If they can close the deal, Alan is sure that the financial rewards would "fix everything that ailed him."
That would be asking a lot. Clay is broke, unemployed, unable to pay his daughter's college tuition, owes significant money to many friends, sleeping poorly, and divorced from his second wife Ruby. Did I mention he has a lump on his neck? Still, he wants to make something of his life, and, "when shaved and dressed, he passed for legitimate." He's something of a loser, but his biggest problem is his self-loathing. He knows that his three younger colleagues look down on him. As the years rolled by there was less and less work for someone like him. His work history began with selling Fuller Brushes, then progressed to manufacturing Schwinn bikes — which were then outsourced to overseas. Now he's on the other side of the world trying to sell a tech gadget.
Clay is a broken man, and he symbolizes a broken moment in the American economy. Waiting for the King, which is a bit like waiting for Godot who never comes, Clay has nothing to do. He can only brood about his life in a lonely hotel room with no bar downstairs.. Does his life have meaning? What about the rocky relationship with his daughter and estranged wife? Sure, he's "imperfect, and there's no path toward perfection," but he still dreams for something big, albeit like Willy Loman of old. And the lump on his neck worries him, as well it should. In the last pages he pitches the holograph to the King. But the presentation was short; and who were those Chinese meeting with his royal highness afterwards? The NYT listed Eggers's elegiac story as one of the top ten books of 2012.