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

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

By Dave Eggers

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2000,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2001,
    464 pages.

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"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

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