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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"Ah!" she says.

"Sorry," I say.

"It's cold."

"It's ice."

"I know it's ice."

"Well, ice is cold."

I still have to apply pressure to the nose, so with my left hand I apply pressure, and with my right I hold the ice to the bridge of her nose. It's awkward, and I can't do both things while sitting on the arm of the couch and still be in a position to see the television. I try kneeling on the floor next to the couch. I reach over the arm of the couch to apply the ice with one hand, and pressure with the other. This works fine, but after a short while my neck gets sore, having to turn ninety degrees to see the screen. It's all wrong.

I have an inspiration. I climb onto the top of the couch, above the cushions, on top of the back of the couch. I stretch out on the top, the cushions shhhing as I settle my weight upon them. I reach down so my head and arms are both aiming in the same direction, with my arms just reaching her nose and my head resting comfortably on the top of the couch, with a nice view of the set. Perfect. She looks up at me and rolls her eyes. I give her a thumbs up. Then she spits green fluid into the half-moon receptacle.


My father had not moved. Beth stood in the entranceway to the family room and waited. He was about ten feet from the street. He was kneeling, but with his hands on the ground, fingers extended down, like roots from a riverbed tree. He was not praying. His head tilted back for a moment as he looked up, not to the sky, but to the trees in the neighbor's backyard. He was still on his knees. He had gone to get the newspaper.


The half-moon container is full. There are now three colors in the half-moon container -- green, red, and black. The blood, which is coming through her nose, is also coming through her mouth. I study the container, noting the way the three fluids do not mix, the green fluid being more viscous, the blood, this blood so thin, just swishing around on top. There is some black liquid in the corner. Maybe that is bile.

"What's the black stuff?" I ask, pointing to it from my perch above her.

"That's probably bile," she says.

A car pulls into the driveway and into the garage. The door connecting the garage to the laundry room opens and closes and then the door to the bathroom opens and closes. Beth is home.

Beth has been working out. Beth likes it when I am home from college for the weekends because then she can work out. She needs her workouts, she says. Toph's shoes continue to rumble. Beth comes into the room. She is wearing a sweatshirt and spandex leggings. Her hair is up though it's usually down.

"Hi," I say.

"Hi," Beth says.

"Hi," Mom says.

"What are you doing on top of the couch?" Beth asks.

"It's easier this way."

"What is?"

"Nosebleed," I say.

"Shit. How long?"

"Forty minutes maybe."

"Did you call the nurse?"

"Yeah, she said to put ice on."

"That didn't work last time."

"You tried ice before?"

"Of course."

"You didn't tell me that, Mom."

"Mom?"

"I'm not going back in."


My father, a man of minor miracles, had done something pretty incredible. This is what he did: six months or so ago, he had sat us down, Beth and I -- not Bill, Bill was in D.C., and not Toph, who for reasons that are obvious enough was not invited -- in the family room. Our mother was not there for some reason, I can't remember exactly where she was -- but so we were there, sitting as far away as possible from the customary cloud of smoke around him and his cigarette. The conversation, if it had followed the standard procedure for such things, would have included warm-up talk, some talk of things generally, and how what he was about to say was very difficult, etcetera, but we were just settling in, kind of well obviously not expecting --

Copyright © 2000 by David ("Dave") Eggers

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