A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Summary and book reviews of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, plus links to an excerpt from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and a biography of Dave Eggers.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Hardcover: Feb 2000,
Paperback: Feb 2001,
"Well, this was when Bill was sighing a lot. He had decided that after our parents died he just didn't want any more fighting between what was left of us. He was twenty-four, Beth was twenty-three, I was twenty-one, Toph was eight, and all of us were so tried already, from that winter. So when something would come up, any little thing, some bill to pay or decision to make, he would just sigh, his eyes tired, his mouth in a sorry kind of smile.
But Beth and I...Jesus, we were fighting with everyone, anyone, each other, with strangers at bars, anywhere -- we were angry people wanting to exact revenge. We came to California and we wanted everything, would take what was ours, anything within reach. And I decided that little Toph and I, he with his backward hat and long hair, living together in our little house in Berkeley, would be world-destroyers. We inherited each other and, we felt, a responsibility to reinvent everything, to scoff and re-create and drive fast while singing loudly and pounding the windows. It was a hopeless sort of exhilaration, a kind of arrogance born of fatalism, I guess, of the feeling that if you could lose a couple of parents in a month, then basically anything could happen, at any time -- all bullets bear your name, all cars are there to crush you, any balcony could give way; more disaster seemed only logical.
And then, as in Dorothy's dream, all these people I grew up with were there, too, some of them orphans also, most but not all of us believing that what we had been given was extraordinary, that it was time to tear or break down, ruin, remake, take and devour. This was San Francisco, you know, and everyone had some dumb idea -- I mean, wicca? -- and no one there would tell you yours was doomed. Thus the public nudity, and this ridiculous magazine, and the Real World tryout, all this need, most of it disguised by sneering, but all driven by a hyper-awareness of this window, I guess, a few years when your muscles are taut, coiled up and vibrating. But what to do with the energy? I mean, when we drive, Toph and I, and we drive past people, standing on top of all these hills, part of me wants to stop the car and turn up the radio and have us all dance in formation, and part of me wants to run them all over."
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
Mr. Eggers demonstrates in this book that he can pretty much write about anything. He can turn a Frisbee game with his brother into an existential meditation on life. He can convey the wild, caffeinated joy he feels after seeing a friend wake up from a coma. And he can turn his efforts to scatter his mother's ashes in Lake Michigan into a story that's both a lyrical tribute to her passing and a crude, slapstick account of his ineptitude as a mourner, lugging about a canister of ashes that reminds him, creepily, of the Ark of the Covenant in the Spielberg movie... A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius may start off sounding like one of those coy, solipsistic exercises that put everything in little ironic quote marks, but it quickly becomes a virtuosic piece of writing, a big, daring, manic-depressive stew of book that noisily announces the debut of a talented -- yes, staggeringly talented new writer.
The New York Times Book Review - Sara Mosle
Eggers's book, which goes a surprisingly long way toward delivering on its self-satirizing, hyperbolic title, is a profoundly moving, occasionally angry and often hilarious account...A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is, finally, a book of finite jest, which is why it succeeds so brilliantly.
Literary self-consciousness and technical invention mix unexpectedly in this engaging memoir by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's and the creator of a satiric 'zine called Might, who subverts the conventions of the memoir by questioning his memory, motivations and interpretations so thoroughly that the form itself becomes comic.
In the end one is left with a surprisingly moving tale of family bonding and resilience as well as the nagging suspicion that maybe he made the whole thing up. In any case, as compared with the spate of recent reminiscences by earnest youngsters, Eggers delivers a worthwhile story told in perfect pitch to the material.
Eggers is an original new voice, the real thing. When you read his extraordinary memoir you don't laugh, then cry, then laugh again; you somehow experience these emotions all at once -- and powerfully.
The force and energy of this book could power a train.
Truly splendid. The key word in the title, of course, is "Staggering" -- and not just because of the subliminal pun off "Eggers." Rather, Eggers is some kind of Staggering Genius the way Pavarotti is a Singing one. When Kierkegaard got in this deep -- this endlessly self-ironizingly, loopily down-spiralingly deep -- he had to rely on God to save him. But Eggers somehow manages to save himself -- all his endlessly knowing self-undercutting somehow managing to cut clean through to something more bottomlessly profound: a simple wonder; a knowing wonder, to be sure, but no less abiding a Wonder for all that.
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