Dorothy described this short book as having a twist at the end. As I listened, I developed several speculations for what that twist might be, making this a fun book for me. Otherwise, it is a pretty odd one.
Two men are given the task by their company to surface an already created roadbed in an anonymous country just emerging from 10 years of civil war. The company had countless rules for minimizing interruptions to their highly mechanized task. The two never know each other’s names and go by numbers instead.
Four was experienced in this work and followed the rules to the letter, while Nine was new to it and exhibited immature behavior. He fraternized with the locals, eating their food and drinking with them, gave away equipment to them, and ultimately became deathly ill. Meanwhile Four was relentless in continuing to operate the miraculous RS-80 to create a perfect road surface, usable immediately, including painting the stripes. Four was like a machine, while Nine was quite foolhardy. The locals were unfathomable and though some helped Four when he tried to find medicine for Nine, their motives were unclear.
We are told the road was being created to link the rural south with the industrial north, so that locals will have access to markets, medical care, and other necessities for a better life. The deadline for completion of the road was said to be the date set for a parade to celebrate the end of the civil war. The twist at the end indicates the purpose for the road was something quite different.
My speculations about the twist were not even close, but I love my ideas. I first thought that there would be a revelation that Four was in fact an automaton, though that would seem unsurprising. Then I thought the great twist would be that Nine was the automaton and something really interesting would come of that. The tone is quite portentous and while words like parable, fable, and allegory come to mind, the book seems to stop rather than end.
Dave Eggers, The Parade, Knopf, 2019, 192 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.