I so wanted to love this book. I was expecting to love this book. Me and Dave Eggers? We’re practically like *this* (crosses fingers). And yet, despite A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius being Eggers’s masterpiece, it just left me feeling a bit…meh. Which is saying a lot, considering the subject material.
Dave Eggers’s memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius follows his life after both of his parents die of cancer…within the same month. Not only is Dave left to deal with the emotional and financial repercussions of losing both of his parents in succession, but he also becomes the main custodian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher or ‘Toph’. No easy task for a 20-year-old.
The premise for Eggers’s memoir is actually heartbreaking. To lose both your parents quickly, to have to raise your younger brother and to do so with all the wants, needs and worries that a 20 year old has? Heartbreaking. Yet surprisingly, Eggers’s manages to skate over the emotional turmoil that he endures, in a way that makes the book read almost as though he is doing so on purpose: ‘hey world, this is my memoir but look, I’m not sad’ – it’s as if he avoids it in writing, he can avoid it in life.
The main problem I had with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was the style used by Eggers’s throughout: the dreaded stream-of-consciousness. Unfortunately for me, stream-of-consciousness is for the most part, not my cup of tea. Which is ironic, because if I ever get around to writing a book, it will probably be in the form of stream-of-consciousness, if only because I get off-track rather easily (ahem, like right now). The problem I have with stream-of-consciousness is that, for me, it dilutes the storyline and essentially, the emotions that are bound up within it. In the case of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a memoir that had the premises of something truly harrowing quickly became, dare I say it?, boring.
Furthermore, and quite unexpectedly, I found this book made me actually start to dislike Dave Eggers. Which is saying something because a) until now, I thought Dave Eggers was one of the coolest authors going around and b) how can a book about your parents dying and having to raise your brother make you MORE unlikeable? But hey, there you have it. Until I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I thought Eggers must have been perfect: brilliant author, creator of McSweeneys, starts his own charity etc. etc. etc., yet reading this book I was sorely reminded that Eggers, just like everyone in their mid-twenties, was largely self-absorbed. And while this may have very well been his point, it didn’t make it for the most enjoyable read. There are too many authors out there who do self-absorption for me to want to read another book on self-absorption.
However, there are definitely aspects of this book that are great. Eggers’s writing is intelligent, witty and caused me to chuckle out loud more than once. Certain aspects of the book, such as the difficulties and stigma that Eggers faces because his parents are dead make for interesting social commentary. And the endearing, strong love between Dave and his brother Toph, though never stated, is the heartbeat of the memoir, and makes it from something average to something a little bit heartwarming.
Have you read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or anything by Dave Eggers? Are you a fan of memoirs? Let me know!
PS I just realised that Dave Eggers’s named McSweeneys after his mother’s maiden name. Annddd, I’m a little bit in love with him again.