Asho's Reviews > A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
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's review
Apr 30, 11

bookshelves: read-but-do-not-own
Read in April, 2011

Add this to the list of books that I waited too long to read and thus allowed to become over-hyped in my head. I was disappointed by this book because I really liked What is the What and I enjoyed listening to Eggers at a talk I attended and I think somewhere along the line someone told me that this book is even better than that one. Well, not in my opinion.
I think I would have liked this more if I hadn't wanted to like it so much (if that makes sense). The thing is, for some reason I was under the impression that it was going to be laugh-out-loud funny, and the "This Was Uncalled For" and the preface and acknowledgments set me up for comedy, but the set up didn't pay off for me (perhaps I misinterpreted the author's intentions in including these initial elements?). I found parts of it humorous, but far more of it was not. The "heartbreaking" parts weren't exactly sad though, either. This book almost had a Brechtian effect: every time I began to feel emotionally engaged with the story, the author would interrupt himself and change the topic or go off on a stream-of-consciousness tangent. I never really did care about the outcome of the situations described, then, which seemed disappointing for a story that could have had so much emotional weight (it's likely that the author's intention was to avoid that kind of pathos, and I get that, but that doesn't mean I have to like it). And this is just my personal preference, but stream-of-consciousness does nothing for me as a reader. It adds a certain frenetic energy to this text, I suppose, but after awhile it just gets obnoxious to read and I start skimming. I don't recall the stream-of-consciousness being a feature of What is the What, or, if it was there, it wasn't as prevalent.
In general this just didn't strike the right note for me. Perhaps it struck the note it intended to strike (and it obviously speaks to many people, as there are a lot of people who clearly love this book), but for me it just didn't sound right. It was simultaneously not weighty enough and not humorous enough for me, and although the author makes a point of acknowledging how much of a jerk he was sometimes and how ridiculous and self-centered and entitled people in their early twenties tend to be in general, the book ultimately still feels self-centered and self-indulgent, even if it is also self-deprecating.
So it gets 3 stars for keeping me engaged and because I find myself wanting to dissect it and talk about its structure and style with people (which obviously means it succeeded at doing something at least somewhat extraordinary), but I was hoping to be blown away.

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