Friday, April 2, 2010

(Book #12) Dave Eggers - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I finished the book 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius', by Dave Eggers yesterday and have been trying to think of what to say about it ever since. This could be the result of my mixed read of the material, or it could be because I am not entirely excited to be writing this review on a Friday night. Maybe a little of both, but I will try to remain objective.

This book (as have so many others that I have been reading) started with a 30-40 page introduction. Though I was given reprieve from the author that it was not essential to the story and could essentially be skipped, I was not compelled to break the rules of my little experiment and wound up reading it anyways. This introduction, as well as other pre-supplemental material given before the actual content, gave context to the story and was more lively than expected. The tone was fantastic and I finished this extremely excited to read the rest of the "work". The book, as it was introduced, was more or less a memoir, though some areas were tweaked, exaggerated or altered to benefit the overall path of the characters or maybe just Eggers himself.

Throughout the story, we learn of the "heartbreaking" aspects of his life, particularly the early-ish deaths of his parents and the way this affected his life and the lives around him and which started off the chain of events that unfold throughout the arc of the book. I will say that there were many parts of the book that were incredibly human and captured the pain of not only the moments themselves but the thoughts of Eggers and the realities he faced. These were juxtaposed with other thoughts or activities in his life that were less sweeping and more mundane. All of these events, though, were seen through the same filter, having been processed and worked out on the pages in front of the writer. The fragmented stories, judgments and opinions laid out in the book read to me almost like a journal or blog. For whom was this work to be benefitting? Eggers? The reader? The other people in his life? I had to remind myself that this book was written in the pre-blog, pre 9/11 era (2000), that perhaps putting this raw feed of inner dialogue 'out there' was not so commonplace as it is now.

I know this book was hailed as a fantastic piece of modern literature, that its format and tone perhaps captured the zeitgeist in ways other books of the time may not have, and for that I concede that it was worth reading. I might not go so far as to encourage people to read it, but I wouldn't dissuade them if they were interested. To me, it was a mixed bag. A collection of oft-times pretentious thoughts and anecdotes and streams of consciousness that somehow got pieced together to form a sort-of story. I kept wondering to myself as I read, "Why is this person significant? Why do I care about who I am reading about? Do I even care?" Maybe not, but I cannot deny that Eggers captured a slice of Americana that some of us, myself included, might find hard to resist relating to. In the end, I was unsure of how to respond, and I still am even writing this now. Maybe that was the point, to wonder if this writer was indeed something special or if he was just another asshole coming to grips with his past, like the rest of us.

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