Jessica's Reviews > A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
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's review
Aug 06, 2011

it was amazing
Read from August 01 to 06, 2011

On second read (it's been five years since my first read) this book strikes me as a young person's memoir. I don't mean that in a negative way, just in a factual way, as in, a Young Person wrote this book. And because a Young Person wrote this book, it sometimes feels like the author is showing us the latest, coolest literary dance steps (well, the coolest literary dance steps in 2000). There is a lot of dancing around in this book, mainly dancing around the issue. The Young Person is so close to the issue that he has to do a lot of dancing to avoid it. And the dancing is fantastic - very fast, very entertaining, often hilarious, and always full of life and spark. And because the book is written by a Young Person, who has just become aware of the depth of life (even that phrase, depth of life, is something an older person cringes to write), it includes his wonder at this discovery, which is touching, moving, and is something that older people should remind themselves of more than they do.

Given the elasticity of the memoir genre, in which someone can write about the same events over and over again and achieve different results every time, I hope that one day Eggers will one day revisit this material as a not-so-Young Person. As an older adult, his dancing might be slower, more deliberate, and more thoughtful. He might stop dancing all together to consider the issue, to see what it has to say about things.

There are very few tragedy memoirs that achieve the depth of inquiry their situations call for, and of these, almost none are written by young people, who are usually too busy actually dealing with the tragedies that they will, decades later, turn into best-selling memoirs. What Eggers gives us then is unique--an up close look at tragedy during youth as told during youth. I assume that the success of this book came at an unimaginable price for Eggers (imagine that for millions of people you are eternally stuck at 25 - do you also have trouble then, leaving 25?). I also assume that five years from now, I may no longer understand or enjoy anything in this book whatsoever. But for now, I'm grateful to Eggers for playing the tour guide to our younger selves, the selves we'll all eventually lose, the selves that are so earnest and want, ache for something they cannot yet name.
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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg I loved this review. It gave me a new perspective on a book which I had tried but failed to enjoy.

I read a big chunk of AHWOSG soon after it came out, but was too annoyed at times by Eggers' voice to finish it. It seemed to me that he was immaturely trying too hard (and I was probably repelled a bit by the hype surrounding the book). I am guessing that some of the bits which annoyed me overlapped with some of the bits which you identified as clearly having been written by a Young Person. Just a guess.

I am about the same age as Eggers. Even so, I didn't cut him any slack, even though he was struggling to write about some emotionally intense experiences at a relatively young age.

I think that I might actually be able to enjoy AHWOSG now, and might be able to appreciate it for what it is.

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