Cover of a reprint edition
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||371 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|ISBN||0-9703355-5-5 (first edition, hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3605.G48 Y68 2002|
|Followed by||"The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water"|
The plot follows Will and Hand, two childhood friends who set out on a week-long around-the-world odyssey, ostensibly to give away a large sum of money.
Will has surprisingly come into a large amount of money, around $32,000. His photograph screwing in a light bulb has been made a silhouette and is being used as a picture for the company's light bulb boxes. He is uncomfortable having this money, since he feels he did nothing to earn it, and is left with a sense of guilt and purposelessness. Shortly after receiving the sum, Will and Hand's mutual childhood friend, Jack, was involved in a car accident. The pair had delusional ambitions to use the money to save his life but to no avail. After Jack's death, Will and Hand are asked to help go through Jack's possessions in a storage facility, where Hand decides to wander around and leaves Will.
During Hand's absence, Will is brutally beaten by three men. Will and Hand agree that it is best not to go to the hospital, lest the attackers attempt to track them. As a result of his confusion due to a conglomerate of issues, such as the large sum of money, Jack's death, Will's beating, and other personal issues, Will and Hand plan to travel around the world visiting obscure countries and giving away all the money, bit by bit, to people they arbitrarily decide are most deserving. According to Hand, they gave to people for the benefit of both parties, as a sacrament with the purpose of restoring a faith in humanity.
The two devise many creative ways of distributing the unwanted money. One plan involves taping money to a donkey in a graph paper pouch that reads "HERE I AM ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE" and another creating a treasure map for Estonian children. While on the journey, the two friends do many wild and spontaneous things, including practicing rolling over cars and jumping from tree to tree while 20 feet in the air. However, without a solid set of criteria, or a definitive direction in their plan, their quest proves surprisingly difficult, and they experience much awkward confusion and moral uncertainty, and they often fear being robbed and killed. Will becomes unstable and begins to lose his composure.
The plot is both a log of the journey and a look into the mind of the narrator, Will.
A pseudo-sequel, titled The Only Meaning of the Oil-Wet Water, follows Hand and the minor character Pilar in Central America. This short story is featured in the collection How We Are Hungry: Stories (2004).
In February 2003, Eggers and McSweeney's published Sacrament, a retitled hardcover edition of You Shall Know Our Velocity that included a new 49-page section inserted into the middle of the story. The U.S. trade-paperback edition of You Shall Know Our Velocity! (with an exclamation point added to the title), released later that year by Vintage, includes this new material. The addition, narrated by Hand, calls into question the reliability of the narrator, and, depending on which version is read, You Shall Know Our Velocity can be viewed as two different stories. In Hand's version, their third friend, Jack, never actually existed. Instead, he is a metaphorical representation of Will's mother, a device Will used to cope with the loss that apparently occurred several years before the trip (rather than alive and in contact with Will as in his version). Hand also corrects one of the most startling scenes in Will's version, in which Will breaks down emotionally, claiming that Will was too shy to do such a thing. Hand does say that Will's version was 85% true, though he did hate the title, renaming it "Sacrament".
The original version was narrated entirely by Will. In the world of the revised version, Will's memoirs were published six years earlier, and Hand has taken it upon himself to insert his own perspective immediately after the climax of the story. Hand's meta-narrative is entirely self-contained, and it is as much a personal digression as it is a relevant critique of the story as presented by Will.
For the hardcover version of You Shall Know Our Velocity, the opening paragraph of the novel is printed directly on the front cover. In Sacrament, Hand alludes to the opening paragraph's being written by a ghostwriter.
- Additional section from Sacrament and some paperback editions (downloadable in PDF format)