If an author has enough gall to put the word genius in the title of a book, the inside pages better live up to it. Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is heartbreaking at times, but far from genius in terms of his writing.
As a senior in college, Eggers finds himself orphaned and in charge of his 8-year-old brother after his parents died of cancer. They pretend to be parent and child, although they eschew modern parental convention by wrestling in public and throwing breakfast fruit at each other. They live a parentless fantasy most children harbor. While getting his brother into school and founding a magazine, Eggers lives a quixotic life that most people only dream about.
This book is equal parts Cervantes, Freud and Dostoevsky. Eggers shows that he can write about anything. An otherwise morose story about spreading his mother’s ashes is twisted into a humorous account of his ineptitude as a mourner. Eggers is probably one of the only authors ever to turn a Frisbee into an existential meditation on life.
Throughout the 300-plus pages, Eggers shows that he can write. Actually, it seems as if he can do nothing but write. The memoir struggles at times, but the author warns against those pages in the exemplary preface. Truthfully, the preface is the best part of the book. It reflects Eggers’ idiosyncratic, pop-culture-saturated view of the world in a way the book does not.
At best, A Heartbreaking Work of Struggling Genius is a rendition of James Joyce meeting Jack Kerouac, capable of making the hardest reader shed tears and the most brooding reader laugh. The book works on two different levels. It can be construed as a philosophical journey or as the angry ramblings of a 29-old-year old man who has seen and experienced more than most people his age.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Author: Dave Eggers
Publication Date: 2000
Publisher: Simon and Schuster