A book with such an unruly title needs little introduction. We all know him, we all love him: Dave Eggers and his largely autobiographical book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius focuses a sad and desperate college-aged kid’s life into a glamorously self-righteous legend.
Happily said, this is the best book I’ve read since Catcher In the Rye, a book I last finished in middle school. A Heartbreaking Work will probably remain a favorite of mine until my own idiosyncratically mocking work of literary brilliance is published (don’t hold your breath). But, that’s exactly what Eggers has done for me; brewed up a fresh sense of inspiration in a time in my life that I feel exhausted and sucked dry.
A Heartbreaking Work is about how 21-year-old Dave must adopt and raise his 8-year-old brother, Toph, after both their parents die in the same winter. The brothers move to San Francisco where their sister Beth lives.
The move was a monumental change, and Beth is downplayed quite a bit as a helpful adoptive parent. The story is the relationship between idealistic Dave and passively cool Toph. In a way, Dave must reinvent the art of parenthood to make best the situation.
At times our frantic character is supremely pleased with his liberal fun-friendly approach to raising young Toph. Within the same paragraph, Dave turns from idyllic to worrisome and is suddenly convinced his hands-off model will torture the boy.
The book also covers the true business endeavors of the writer, his success as Might Magazine co-founder and its demise. The funniest chapter is the lengthy dialogue Dave has with an MTV executive, who interviews him for Road Rules. Parts like this are brilliant examples of the author’s creative ability, thoughtful critiques of social norms and awkward topics and his helpful understanding of real life.
I enjoyed the humor in this book most because of the bottom-line good storytelling. His chapters are tangential scenes that carry so much existential purpose – these things that are said and heard and felt are true to the reader, baffling so. I also find a more passionate need to tell a story here than in most books. Dave is struggling to balance a social life and surrogate parenthood – it gets tough! This book flows like a monologue in its power and Eggers can round eight thoughts on a page without breaking his rant. It’s a literary form of consciousness – stream of consciousness that carries with it a river of emotion, from self-mockery to boisterous achievement, to utter despair and disbelief.
I’m also happy to promote that A Heartbreaking Work works in a way I see less and less in contemporary writers. Eggers takes on so many freedoms as a writer, I love seeing these creative twists. For example, small diagrams will illustrate the best way to slide across the kitchen in socks. Also, Eggers adds in a fictitious element to parts of the book he doesn’t remember well, or to dwell on a life-illuminating conversation. These small additions are inventive and really indicative of true originality.
He is a cowardly orphan. He is frivolous and irresponsible. He is a self indulgent, whiney brat. It’s all true (not all, but enough) and I commend the man. If writing an autobiography necessitates this kind of humiliated experience, you know it will be good.