Title: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Author: Dave Eggers
Genre: Biography, Memoir, Humor
Publishing Date: 2000
“Because I was afraid that you’d be unpopular and would be cast out for being a near-orphan and having funny ears and living in a rental and would grow up with an interest in guns and uniforms, or worse, I’ll find you under the covers reading Chicken Soup for the Prepubescent Soul and lamenting your poor lot, I got dressed and went to that comics stores that’s open ’til eight, and we got two packs of cards and one of them has a hologram in it…” (pg. 84)
“We are wearing what we always wear, shorts and T-shirts, having decided, after thinking about what to wear and then remembering not to think about what to wear, to wear what we would have worn had we not been thinking about what to wear.” (pg. 244)
“My mom used to kill us when we took school pictures without her knowledge, before she would approve of our outfits. Of course, there’s a reason we didn’t tell her about Picture Day, and that reason is spelled P-L-A-I-D.” (pg. 326)
Synopsis: At age 22, Dave Eggers loses both of his parents to unrelated cancers within five weeks of one another. Orphaned along with his three siblings, Eggers becomes the primary caretaker for his eight-year-old brother. In the memoir, Dave recounts his parents’ final days and the challenges, failures, and triumphs (but mostly just challenges and failures) that follow when he moves across the country to California in an attempt to start a new life for himself and his brother.
Opinion: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG) was one of the books I pulled from my mom’s bookshelf after she passed away. I had heard of the title but had no idea what it was about. After reading the premise, I was intrigued and decided to give it a go.
Part I of this 11-part, 437-page memoir is, in my opinion, the best. In this section, Eggers walks through the demise of his mother’s health and the sudden, unexpected loss of his father. And he does it with such impeccable honesty and authenticity. Having just watched my mom die not even a year ago, I was amazed by Eggers’ ability to so accurately capture the heartbreak and humor that can coexist in our most difficult moments.
After Part I, however, AHWOSG lost me. Eggers style is self-reflective, stream of consciousness, and more often than not, rambling. There are tangents that go on for dozens of pages at a time. And circuitous thought patterns that don’t really take you anywhere. I felt like this book was a series of memories and thoughts and obsessions strung together haphazardly, rather than a thoughtful, purposeful memoir with a clear route and worthwhile destination.
By the 300th page, I was just fighting to finish. And the grand finale was quite possibly the greatest letdown of all.
Perhaps AHWOSG was simply over my head. If someone told me “You just don’t get it,” I’d have to wholeheartedly agree. (I mean, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize!!)
But it did provide a few chuckle-out-loud moments, and the first part was so well done that it was worth the rest, which I waded through laboriously like a fat person running under water.
If I had to sum it up in one word, that word would undoubtedly be this: Staggering.
Overall: 1.5 out of 5
Who Should Read This Book: It’s hard to say, really, since I didn’t connect with this one. But I’d image hipsters who grew up at the same time as Eggers would enjoy AHWOSG more than I did.