Excerpt from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

By Dave Eggers

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Feb 2000,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2001,
    464 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"Okay," he says, and goes back downstairs.

...


Through the family room window, in the middle of the white-silver screen, my father was in his suit, a gray suit, dressed for work. Beth paused in the entrance between the kitchen and the family room and watched. The trees in the yard across the street were huge, gray-trunked, high-limbed, the short grass on the lawn yellowed, spotted with fall leaves. He did not move. His suit, even with him kneeling, leaning forward, was loose on his shoulders and back. He had lost so much weight. A car went by, a gray blur. She waited for him to get up.


You should see the area where her stomach was. It's grown like a pumpkin. Round, bloated. It's odd -- they removed the stomach, and some of the surrounding area if I remember correctly, but even with the removal of so much thereabouts, she looks pregnant. You can see it, the bulge, even under the blanket. I'm assuming it's the cancer, but I haven't asked my mother, or Beth. Was it the bloating of the starving child? I don't know. I don't ask questions. Before, when I said that I asked questions, I lied.

The nose has at this point been bleeding for about ten minutes. She had had one nosebleed before, two weeks ago maybe, and Beth could not make it stop, so she and Beth had gone to the emergency room. The hospital people had kept her for two days. Her oncologist, who sometimes we liked and sometimes we did not, came and visited and glanced at stainless steel charts and chatted on the side of the bed -- he has been her oncologist for many years. They gave her new blood and had monitored her white blood cell count. They had wanted to keep her longer, but she had insisted on going home; she was terrified of being in there, was finished with hospitals, did not want --

She had come out feeling defeated, stripped, and now, safely at home, she did not want to go back. She had made me and Beth promise that she would never have to go back. We had promised.

"Okay," we said.

"I'm serious," she said.

"Okay," we said.

I push her forehead as far back as possible. The arm of the couch is soft and pliable.

She spits. She is used to the spitting, but still makes strained, soft vomiting noises.

"Does it hurt?" I ask.

"Does what hurt?"

"The spitting."

"No, it feels good, stupid."

"Sorry."

A family walks by outside, two parents, a small child in snowpants and a parka, a stroller. They do not look through our window. It is hard to tell if they know. They might know but are being polite. People know.

My mother likes to have the curtains open so she can see the yard and the street. During the day it is often very bright outside, and though the brightness is visible from inside the family room, somehow the light does not travel effectively into the family room, in terms of bringing to the family room any noticeable illumination. I am not a proponent of the curtains being open.

Some people know. Of course they know.

People know.

Everyone knows.

Everyone is talking. Waiting.

I have plans for them, the nosy, the inquisitive, the pitying, have developed elaborate fantasies for those who would see us as grotesque, pathetic, our situation gossip fodder. I picture strangulations -- Tsk tsk, I hear she's-GURGLE! -- neck-breakings -- what will happen to that poor little bo-CRACK! -- I picture kicking bodies as they lie curled on the ground, spitting blood as they -- Jesus Christ, Jesus fucking Christ, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! -- beg for mercy. I lift them over my head and then bring them down, break them over my knee, their spines like dowels of balsa. Can't you see it? I push offenders into giant vats of acid and watch them struggle, scream as the acid burns, breaks them apart. My hands fly into them, breaking their skin -- I pull out hearts and intestines and toss them aside. I do head-crushings, beheadings, some work with baseball bats -- the variety and degree of punishment depending on the offender and the offense. Those whom I don't like or my mother doesn't like in the first place get the worst -- usually long, drawn-out strangulations, faces of red then purple then mauve. Those I barely know, like the family that just walked by, are spared the worst -- nothing personal. I'll run them over with my car.

Copyright © 2000 by David ("Dave") Eggers

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  166The City:
    Dean Koontz

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.