Thoughts on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers


When I finished this book, I turned back and read the final 20 pages again. It’s irreverent, post-modern and cocksure. Eggers writes with a breakneck verbosity that can, on occasion, seem glib. I wasn’t sure I liked him at all, until I finished the book and felt like crying. Because behind the bluster and the literary arsenal here is a very human story indeed, one with which anyone who has loved and lost can relate.

I first encountered Eggers through the foreword to ‘Infinite Jest’, a book to which this bears some comparison. Both are liberal with their sentence structure. Both pay little heed to traditional prose, much less the covenants of received pronunciation. Both are smart and incredibly self-aware. And, more than anything, both understand the flaws of humanity and how ridiculous it is that such flawed beings become creatures of habit and convention. If we’re all so fucked, then who’s to say what’s right and wrong? 

“Sometimes a book isn’t a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Sometimes it’s the only story you knew how to tell.”

Tahereh Mafi 

This book is written with a sense of freedom and whim that will be the envy of anyone who has sat struggling to put pen to paper. It moves arrhythmically: fast then slow, slow then fast, forwards and sideways; jagged and ragged. The pace changes, on occasion, leave your head a-spin, confused. At times you wonder whether Eggers is too clever for his own good, finding yourself wondering where you last met the character he drops back in, after 100 pages of neglecting them. 

But that feeling of despair you get when Eggers is stood on the end of a pier, facing his past and facing the deaths that have defined his life so squarely in the face packs such a cumulative emotional punch that you can’t help but love his intelligence and applaud the balls with which he attacks this book and by virtue, life itself. 

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