Punk's Reviews > A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
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's review
Jun 14, 2007

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bookshelves: non-fiction, memoir
Read in September, 2003

Non-fiction(ish). Dave Eggers' parents are dead, and now he's got to take care of his little brother. This is their sort-of-true story.

Because I'm a geek, Dave Eggers endears himself to me just by his modifications to the verso, which include his placement on a sexual-orientation scale of 1 to 10 and the reminder that the military-industrial-entertainment complex really has little power over us as individuals. The book suffers from all the weaknesses Eggers warns us about in the notes: it's self-referential, self-aggrandizing, self-conscious, self-destroying, and, if you'll excuse the redundancy, self-masturbatory. Still, at his best, Eggers has created something huge and moving. At his worst, well, it's still huge.

For whatever reasons, usually tears or boredom (tears the first half, boredom the second), I found I could appreciate the book a lot more if I only read twenty pages at a time. When my eyes started to glaze over and I realized I'd been staring at the same page for ten minutes without understanding a word of it, I would gratefully put it down and run away. Sometimes all the epic grandness of life and death and frisbee just takes it out of you.

It's a difficult and rambling book to read, but you can learn from it. I learned from it. I learned how to write like Dave Eggers, which is not necessarily a marketable skill, but it amuses me. Eggers probably feels the same way. He's not afraid of language. He writes sentences like: "There has been Spin the Bottle." And for that, I'm glad I read it. Even though it took a month and some serious eye-rolling to get through it.

Three stars for its linguistic novelty and for the first half of the book. The second half only gets two stars. Eggers should have told his heartbreaking story and then quit while he was ahead.
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