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  IS DAVE EGGERS TRYING TO BREAK OUR HEARTS? SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS ABOUT THE BALLOONIST.

 
   
   
 

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 underdog.

And now we have "The Balloonist," which, an insider tells The Black Table, is a product of Eggers and The Mineral Palace author Heidi Julavits. Assuming the mention of the magazine is not another one of Eggers' pranks, it begs the question why he's doing this. Granted, the magazine is mostly speculation at this point. At the moment, a Google search results in a whopping three Web sites that have nothing to do with anything even remotely related to Eggers, but it certainly is something to ponder.

Maybe Eggers simply feels compelled to do something new. At this point, McSweeney's no longer operates out of Eggers' living room and has become a well-oiled machine, with third-party distribution deals and a small staff, complete with volunteers. If George Plimpton calls in sick for a couple of days at The Paris Review offices, the journal isn't going to fold. Described in the Observer article as "a sort of younger, hipper Harper's for the winsome set," the Balloonist seems right up Eggers' alley, though perhaps the label hits a little too close to the one already associated with McSweeney's.

Of course, there could be other reasons. Truth is, literary journals only reach a certain segment of the population and tend to stay at that level no matter how they try to increase their audience. With McSweeney's popularity peaking, perhaps Eggers wants to reach a broader audience instead of us post-graduate, trendy-glasses-wearing latte drinkers who have read Ulysses.

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.

Lastly -- and this may be what many of us all hope for -- it's possible that Eggers wants to bring back Might. Less forceful and obvious than the Lampoon, and more subtle and smart than Spy, during its heyday, Might was the sole reason to scour newsstands for a particular magazine.

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.

Whatever the reason Eggers has for starting this new magazine, and however we speculate what it will entail, we have to understand that he seems to be a man who has always looked to fill a void, to revive something in a unique way. With Might came a publication that spoke to a younger audience who wanted a voice of dissention, yet something absorbable and entertaining. It was given tenfold.

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 Spy and the Lampoon…) shut their door just a few years ago.

No matter what happens, people will certainly be eager to embrace The Balloonist. And rest assured, throughout the whole endeavor, Eggers will be there, right along side us, wondering what happens next.

 

*BT*

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.