3/31/10 - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I recently finished a new book entitled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It’s a memoir he wrote almost 10 years ago about the time surrounding the deaths of his parents (both from cancer and within 5 weeks of each other) and how he took on the job of raising his younger brother at a relatively young age himself (he was about 22 and his brother was 9). It was a Pulitzer runner up and I’d remembered hearing really good things about it when it originally came out. And given my current proximity to cancer, I thought it might prove a good read. And it was, but I was exhausted by the time I finished it.

It was almost 500 pages of stream of consciousness. Given the fact that I’ve cranked out at least that many pages over the last 16 months of writing this blog, I have a certain affinity for stream of consciousness writing. But this was as if he had, at some point, sat down and in one sitting written the whole thing based on recollection and how his various neuroses happened to color those memories and the people within them. It was beyond raw. It almost felt unedited.

There were definitely pieces that I related to right about now. And there were pieces that just made me roll my eyes. There were pieces that made me laugh out loud as well as tear up. There were even some point where I seriously considered giving up and putting the book down. The writing is lovely and smart. I alternately thought about wanting to have a beer sometime with this author (if for nothing else than to have a voice to put with the words) and wanting to send him a check for therapy.

Altogether, I’m not entirely sure what I think of the book on a whole. While I’m not sure I would ever read it again, I’m very glad that I read it. It was nice to know, once again, that I am not alone in this parental cancer journey. Also? It’s really good to know that I’m not alone in some of my more neurotic/dramatic/silly/morbid thought processes.


sh said...

I did not like AHWoSG. The front and back matter and the first chapter were exceptional pieces of writing, but the rest of the book . . . well, this movie review sums the book up nicely.

That being said, Mr. Eggers work with things such as McSweeney's, and 826 Valencia is nothing short of fantastically wonderful. You should check out McSweeney's online as well as perhaps the magazine The Believer.

mosaica said...

I'm not entirely sure I liked it either. There is some truly lovely and heart wrenching writing in the book that I truly relate to right now. So I'm sure that skews my ability to look at it all objectively. But through about 75% of the book I kept wanting to just tell him to shut the fuck up already and move on. Seriously.

I will check out the McSweeney's online and the mag - thanks for the referrals...