If The Parade were simply a parable, the lesson would be for countries to avoid intervening in “postconflict” zones. But Eggers is subtler than that. “Pick a number”, Four says to Nine when they meet – a number that becomes Nine’s name. The arbitrariness of this initial conversation parallels the arbitrary and – to put it mildly – perverse ending. Between these poles, however, lies plenty of ambivalence and ambiguity, adding up to a meditation on the capricious nature of power, as well as on the tension, fear and occasional beauty that arises in unexpected interactions. It seems that TheParade, then, is less a parable than a complex and satisfying novel.
Eggers’s stylistic genius remains in evidence: the plot seems powered by Four’s functionalism, but his concise description of the terrain sometimes emits a lovely shimmer, as if reflecting Nine’s sense of wonder (“Silver corkscrew plumes rose from small fires”)...
The Parade conjures a dystopian near-future curiously behind the times. Even if Eggers’s heart is in the right place, his book has few answers for a world on the brink.
Brief, terse and at times painfully obvious in its sociopolitical concerns, it follows the journey of two foreign contractors, code-named Four and Nine (“For reasons of security the company insisted on simple pseudonyms”), who are employed to build a road across a developing country on behalf of an international conglomerate...there’s a surprising quantity of Tell in this ungainly and first-draftish novel, elusive in its material and vaguely coercive in its form, where the most memorable passages derive not from characters or setting but from the workings of its fabulous paving machine.
It might be that some people think of the new novel by Dave Eggers as a kind of satire, but it would be an erroneous assumption. Although he is a writer who is askance and witty and gives the reader a kind of raised eyebrow, there is a core of moral and political seriousness in his work. [...] Eggers is above all a serious writer. Although there is a lean and quirky flow to his prose, this mismatched buddies road-movie – about a road for goodness sake – is urgent and angry. Ezra Pound once called literature “news that stays news.” It might well be that Eggers is making literature that unveils the fake of fake news.
The Parade, his latest novel for adults, is a brief parable about war and its aftermath, designed principally to show that efforts at reconstruction can involve or even allow further strife. Its language is generally spare and efficient (albeit with oddly archaic elements that serve no obvious effect – “eschewing”, “purview”, “attire”, “unsullied”), and its two principal characters are stripped of virtually all their individuality – names (they are known simply as Four and Nine), history, everything...It would be deflationary to deduce from this that Eggers thinks progress is a Bad Thing. Rather, his allegory is designed to make us realise the dangers of “improvements”, when their use is exploited by those who control the levers of power. His novel may be sternly reduced in terms of its cast and language, but this leanness doesn’t diminish the strength of its argument.
[T]he specific moral, when unveiled, manages to be a surprise: you are so prepared to be told which of the two men’s opposing approaches to the local country is the right one, that you miss the message that neither should have been there at all. That message, however, is delivered so unceremoniously that it leaves you feeling not enlightened but schooled. The parable makes its point, about the ignorance and arrogance of some who seek to help the developing world, the damage caused by outside interference, but the story never feels like more than a vehicle for the lesson. And worse, with the book’s lack of meaningful characterisation, it’s not clear that Eggers is faring much better than these clueless foreign contractors sent in to pave the road: men who never really understand the people they encounter, and who leave behind something artificial and flat.
These are not spoilers so much as the terms of the Buddy genre, and for most of the novel, Eggers does not deviate from that. Nine's delight with everything is a constant irritant to his machine-like partner, but it's also a persistent reminder of how much life Four is missing.
Which brings us to what this novel is missing. Eggers has pared his clever style down to a series of flat, declarative sentences. The characters have been crunched into types. The details of this place have been sandblasted away. At best, we're left with the stark elements of a parable, which raises the book's pretentiousness quotient to dangerously high levels. At worst, we have a story that conforms to the West's reductive attitudes about the developing world. Writers and politicians have long generalised about those individual cultures. A novel that lumps them together into a nameless, primitive nation only plays into that tendency.
The Parade has a light touch, but it’s stylish and slick, and it leaves us pondering the rights and wrongs of progress and intervention. A road brings medicine, but it also bears armies.
The Parade owes a great deal to J.M. Coetzee’s masterpiece Waiting for the Barbarians. Like Coetzee, Eggers has fashioned an unnamed country, presumably (although, tellingly, not explicitly) in Africa, where the protagonist’s physical and metaphorical journey functions as a commentary on the idea of progress. Like Barbarians, The Parade has a bien-pensant central figure whose organising moral tenets are tested over the course of the story. It isn’t giving away too much of a powerfully affecting ending to say that, like the Magistrate in Coetzee’s novel, Eggers’s hero, known only as Four, ends up facing the limitations of the comforting pabulums of his world view... The superb ending feels entirely earnt, a fitting denouement to a novel whose morality is dazzlingly complex and whose conclusions are never simple. Certainly his best book since What is the What, The Parade may well be the sound of a major writer finding his mature voice.
Reading about the paving of a long straight road is about as interesting as waiting for asphalt to dry...Though Eggers packs Four and Nine’s itinerary with incident, his vision of American involvement in the developing world is a conventional blend of liberal guilt and pessimism when it comes to the prospects of self-governance in poor little countries with forgettable names....For all his excesses, the younger Eggers was the more fascinating writer. You wouldn’t confuse those early books with a TED Talk.
The Parade is tightly written, carefully designed to wrongfoot preconceptions, and astute, as Eggers nearly always is. Its central flaw is the essentially abstract nature of its neat choreography of plot and character. This is an intensely gripping story that keeps on pulling towards a universality that, given the intrinsic vagueness of the setting, feels overly simplified and never quite rings true.
Eggers has said that he doesn’t want the book to be read as a commentary on American intervention in the developing world, and the book is all the better for not narrowing its scope to a particular country at a particular time. Its lack of identifying details instead enables a much more wide-ranging and thoughtful engagement with concepts of power and inequality and whether Western notions of what constitutes ‘progress’ are always right. ‘The second we’re done,’ Nine says at one point, ‘their world catapults into the twenty-first century.’ Eggers’s powerful novel suggests that this isn’t necessarily a good thing.