A road novel that features lots of speeding car rides and fleeting run-ins with exotic foreigners, You Shall Know Our Velocity is pitched somewhere between a winded heave and a mantric sigh. Neither extreme proves more durable than the other, but both are well-served by the restless drive of author Dave Eggers, whose iconic literary status has inspired everything from breathless adulation to grim huffing and puffing. Bypassing the metafictional conceits of his McSweeney's literary journal and his autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, Eggers takes a straightforward approach to the story of two twentysomething guys fleeing the present for more momentous experiences. Armed with a bundle of cash they all but fell into, Will and Hand jet away from Wisconsin on a weeklong journey around the world, looking for random people who might put their money to less meaningless use. With no real plan to go by, they end up in Senegal, Morocco, Latvia, and a few points between, but in spite of Eggers' ostensibly worldly premise, he spends much of his time confined to his main characters' heads. Alternately deferential and insolent in an all-American kind of way, Will and Hand wander around unsure of their purpose, flitting between sentiments like "If it feels good, it is good" and "At this point I really don't know if I'm seeing anything or missing everything." Spending more time plotting their next move than following the steps they've already taken, Will and Hand are consummate drifters, both enlivened and paralyzed by the overwhelming options which—along with the recent death of their friend in a car crash—send them into an existential tailspin. A rangy story that sweeps the freedoms and traps of idealized escapism into powerful musings on life and death, You Shall Know Our Velocity casts Eggers as an impressive first-time novelist with a stunning handle on language and a loudly beating heart. But for all his milky sentences and worldly reach, his talent for storytelling largely outweighs the stories he tells. Continually set in airports and out-of-the-way stops on a rootless journey, the novel proves a little too effective in showcasing the mundane realities of travel. And for all their devastatingly funny and sad riffs on what it means to lose hold of a world once ripe for the taking, Will and Hand ultimately feel less like characters than like sounding boards for the things that happen all around them. Speaking about the grim memories he's fleeing, Will says, "The only times they are not with me are those times when speed overwhelms, when the action of movements supersedes and crowds out." He ultimately reconciles the truths and fallacies lurking in his frantic desires, but only after weathering the kind of wayward misdirection that blurs You Shall Know Our Velocity's otherwise sharp focus.

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