|IS DAVE EGGERS TRYING TO BREAK OUR HEARTS? SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS ABOUT THE BALLOONIST.|
|By Steve Delahoyde||
Dave Eggers is returning to the world of magazines with a secretive new title known only as "The Balloonist."
If you weren't paying close attention last week, you might have missed it in the pages of the New York Observer's by-the-numbers on Jack White of the The White Stripes. The proverbial beans about The Balloonist were spilled when the Observer asked White about his upcoming interview for the magazine. Although the passage itself was very short and revealed nothing about this new endeavor, underground literary circles were abuzz at the idea that Eggers would return to his roots.
After all, Eggers founded the now-defunct satirical magazine called Might and spent time working as an editor at Esquire. And of course, there's his best-selling autobiographical book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," his self-published novel "You Shall Know Our Velocity" and McSweeney's, which started it all.
For years, Egger's lliterary journal, McSweeney's, has been at the forefront of independent, self-funded writing, creating a cottage industry of like-minded individuals who existed outside the corporate
world. Like the punk rock movement of the 1970's, McSweeney's created something new out a classic form of expression. In tearing up the constructs of stuffy literature, the journal openly giggled at everything from high-ranking political officials to the very mundane, overlooked elements of the copyright page.
Conceptual and rebellious at first, Eggers released more and more journals, each with its patterned, off-kilter weirdness, and then moved onto books. Yet with success came change. The gimmicks became fewer, the tone more serious. While clever and interesting to read, anything published by McSweeney's, even on the Web site, became the one thing it once mocked: Serious literature.
For McSweeney's, the subtle, yet swift change hit hard. Even those
die-hard supporters, people who hung on Eggers' every word and would fly
across the country to attend a McSweeney's event, were saddened
by the loss of the youthful, playful tone they'd grown accustomed to.
But facts were facts: McSweeney's had become the standard, not
The New Yorker and Harper's have a diverse mix in their
readership, if simply because they're not tucked away in the dark and
damp corner that is your neighborhood chain bookstore's literary journal
section. With enough financial backing and distribution contracts, this
new magazine could be the mass-market McSweeney's, injecting not
simply the fun and clever, smart-alecky tone of the journal, but going
beyond The New Yorker or Harper's with creative stories
about subjects you never knew that you cared about.
Although short-lived, it was the magazine equivalent of "The Daily
Show." Clever, honest, occasionally offensive, it looked at the world
with a bitter, sarcastic eye, yet had an overpowering creative optimism
to it that only a struggling youthfulness can afford. Attacking corporations,
individuals, politics and anything else it could get its hands on, including
itself, the magazine was awash in well-thought opinion craftily veiled
under the guise of humor. Although McSweeney's often had the same
sort of stylistic form and smartass tone, Might was far more focused
and pertinent -- it's not surprising it remains such a popular cult favorite.
If Eggers hopes to return to a format similar to this, the excitement
will be more than justified.
With "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," Eggers made the autobiography something exciting and moving, toying with both facts and literary conventions. With McSweeney's, he took the bland world of literary journals and made it fun. With 826 Valencia, a non-profit tutoring program in San Francisco, Eggers shows he has a warm heart as well.
We need Might again. The closest we have now is The Onion,
which is certainly wonderful, but lacks a socially pertinent focus, mixing
itself thin between the absurd, the overtly comedic and satiric. A new
Might would fulfill the void we've had since they (
and the Lampoon
) shut their door just a few years ago.
Steve Delahoyde is a writer who lives in the thriving, danger-ridden metropolis that is Iowa City, IA. The spoiled fruits of his labors can be found at Irritable Colon.