Let me start by saying that I am a huge Dave Eggers fan. I think his vision is inspirational, his writing spine tingling and his dedication to the good of mankind admirable. I have read Zeitoun and What is the What and thought both were stellar tomes. I have listened to Eggers speak at the TED conference and have been moved by his words and his energy.
So, it was with great anticipation that I picked up this book, The Wild Things. Knowing the premise of the book – a novelisation of a picture book (recently produced as a film) Where The Wild Things Are? – I was intrigued to see what Eggers would accomplish in this reproduction.
The book traces a young boy’s attempt to deal with the collapse of his world. His parents are divorced and his elder sister no longer has time for him. He is clearly isolated and on many levels, lost. He attempts to bridge the gap that he feels growing between him and his mother by engaging with her directly, but she is literally overwhelmed with her own struggles to raise two children single handedly and work full time and manage a household.
The boy, Max, tries desperately to cope with his crumbling world and when he feels as though he is failing, he escapes. The reader is unsure of whether this is a literal, physical escape or whether Max is imagining himself escaping, climbing into the little boat and sailing off to find a place for himself in the world.
The journey which follows (seemingly endless) and the arrival at the island and encounter with the strange beasts (the wild things) are surreal episodes which leave the reader feeling undone. Max pronounces himself ‘King’ of these beasts and attempts to fill their lives with his presence and therefore provide meaning for them. This drive to fill an imagined void is obviously representative of a hole that Max himself is yearning to stop.
While many aspects of the experiences on this island were vivid, on some level the character of Max didn’t show enough emotion in response to what was happening. Now, this could have been Eggers’ intent, to show Max’s youth, his ineptitude and therefore his inability to conceive fully of the danger that might have awaited him on the island. But, I wanted to take more comfort in Max’s journey. I wanted him to find a place for himself, a sense of belonging. For me, this was absent, even upon his return and I was left feeling as though he had somehow been cheated by this absence.
Despite this criticism, I am still an Eggers fan. I will still keep reading my way through his contribution to the literary world and I will still recommend his books. Even this novelisation of Sendak’s picture book is worth reading, if only to try and understand where Eggers’ own wild things reside.