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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"How's school?" she asks.

"Fine."

I don't tell her I've been dropping classes.

"How's Kirsten?"

"She's good."

"I always liked her. Nice girl. Spunky."

When I rest my head on the couch I know that it's coming, coming like something in the mail, something sent away for. We know it is coming, but are not sure when -- weeks? months? She is fifty-one. I am twenty-one. My sister is twenty-three. My brothers are twenty-four and seven.

We are ready. We are not ready. People know.

Our house sits on a sinkhole. Our house is the one being swept up in the tornado, the little train-set model house floating helplessly, pathetically around in the howling black funnel. We're weak and tiny. We're Grenada. There are men parachuting from the sky.

We are waiting for everything to finally stop working -- the organs and systems, one by one, throwing up their hands -- The jig is up, says the endocrine; I did what I could, says the stomach, or what's left of it; We'll get em next time, adds the heart, with a friendly punch to the shoulder.


After half an hour I remove the towel, and for a moment the blood does not come.

"I think we got it," I say.

"Really?" she says, looking up at me.

"Nothing's coming," I say.

I notice the size of her pores, large, especially those on her nose. Her skin has been leathery for years, tanned to permanence, not in an unflattering way, but in a way interesting considering her Irish background, the fact that she must have grown up fair --

It begins to come again, the blood thick and slow at first, dotted with the black remnants of scabs, then thinner, a lighter red. I squeeze again.

"Too hard," she says. "That hurts."

"Sorry," I say.

"I'm hungry," says a voice. Toph. He is standing behind me, next to the couch.

"What?" I say.

"I'm hungry."

"I can't feed you now. Have something from the fridge."

"Like what?"

"I don't care, anything."

"Like what?"

"I don't know."

"What do we have?"

"Why don't you look? You're seven, you're perfectly capable of looking."

"We don't have anything good."

"Then don't eat."

"But I'm hungry."

"Then eat something."

"But what?"

"Jesus, Toph, just have an apple."

"I don't want an apple."

"C'mere, sweetie," says Mom.

"We'll get some food later," I say.

"Come to Mommy."

"What kind of food?"

"Go downstairs, Topher."

Toph goes back downstairs.

"He's scared of me," she says.

"He's not scared of you."

In a few minutes, I lift the towel to see the nose. The nose is turning purple. The blood is not thickening. The blood is still thin and red.

"It's not clotting," I say.

"I know."

"What do you want to do?"

"Nothing."

"What do you mean, nothing?"

"It'll stop."

"It's not stopping."

"Wait awhile."

"We've been waiting awhile."

"Wait more."

"I think we should do something."

"Wait."

"When's Beth coming back?"

"I don't know."

"We should do something."

"Fine. Call the nurse."

I call the nurse we call when we have questions. We call her when the IV isn't dripping properly, or when there's a bubble in the tube, or when bruises the size of dinner plates appear on our mother's back. For the nose the nurse suggests pressure, and keeping her head back. I tell her that I have been doing just that, and that it has not yet worked. She suggests ice. I say thank you and hang up and go to the kitchen and wrap three cubes of ice in a paper towel. I bring them back and apply them to the bridge of her nose.

Copyright © 2000 by David ("Dave") Eggers

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