Eggers does so many things so well it can be hard to remember the things he doesn’t. Still only 42 years old, Eggers has already been an influential indie editor (Might magazine), a magazine prodigy (Esquire), a bestselling memoirist (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), a sports editor (ESPN The Magazine), a publishing magnate (the McSweeney’s empire), an ace reporter (Zeitoun), a philanthropist (826 Valencia, a group of literacy charities) and a screenwriter (Where the Wild Things Are). But what he hasn’t been, at least until now, is a novelist of any acclaim.
Eggers’s first work of fiction, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, was a nearly unreadable failure. His “novels” since have been either loosely fictionalized reporting (What is the What) or adaptations of other work (The Wild Things, based on the film). A Hologram for the King is something else entirely. A purely original story, it is also Eggers’s best writing in years.
Set in Saudi Arabia in the present day, the book tells the story of Alan Clay, a middle-aged consultant trying to broker a technology deal between a U.S. firm and the country’s royal family. The plot trucks heavily in a kind of industrial nostalgia. Clay used to sell bicycles for Schwinn before the company went bankrupt. Today’s he’s desperately peddling a hologram, trying to keep his career—and life—above water.
But for all that, the book is neither hopeless nor polemical. It is instead restrained, compelling and, oddly, almost inexplicably, optimistic. Eggers has always had outrageous talent. But in his fiction, at least, he has rarely used it as well as he does here. A Hologram for the King is without doubt his best novel; it is also among his best books in any form.