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Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
Mr. Eggers demonstrates in this book that he can pretty much write about anything. He can turn a Frisbee game with his brother into an existential meditation on life. He can convey the wild, caffeinated joy he feels after seeing a friend wake up from a coma. And he can turn his efforts to scatter his mother's ashes in Lake Michigan into a story that's both a lyrical tribute to her passing and a crude, slapstick account of his ineptitude as a mourner, lugging about a canister of ashes that reminds him, creepily, of the Ark of the Covenant in the Spielberg movie.... A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius may start off sounding like one of those coy, solipsistic exercises that put everything in little ironic quote marks, but it quickly becomes a virtuosic piece of writing, a big, daring, manic-depressive stew of book that noisily announces the debut of a talented — yes, staggeringly talented new writer.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


Literary self-consciousness and technical invention mix unexpectedly in this engaging memoir by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's and the creator of a satiric 'zine called Might, who subverts the conventions of the memoir by questioning his memory, motivations and interpretations so thoroughly that the form itself becomes comic. Despite the layers of ironic hesitation, the reader soon discerns that the emotions informing the book are raw and, more importantly, authentic. After presenting a self-effacing set of "Rules and Suggestions for the Enjoyment of this Book" ("Actually, you might want to skip much of the middle, namely pages 209-301") and an extended, hilarious set of acknowledgments (which include an itemized account of his gross and net book advance), Eggers describes his parents' horrific deaths from cancer within a few weeks of each other during his senior year of college, and his decision to move with his eight year-old brother, Toph, from the suburbs of Chicago to Berkeley, near where his sister, Beth, lives. In California, he manages to care for Toph, work at various jobs, found Might, and even take a star turn on MTV's The Real World. While his is an amazing story, Eggers, now 29, mainly focuses on the ethics of the memoir and of his behavior—his desire to be loved because he is an orphan and admired for caring for his brother versus his fear that he is attempting to profit from his terrible experiences and that he is only sharing his pain in an attempt to dilute it. Though the book is marred by its ending—an unsuccessful parody of teenage rage against the cruel world—it will still delight admirers of structural experimentation and Gen-Xers alike.
Publishers Weekly


It's a good guess that Jedediah Purdy—the author of For Common Things and righteous agitator against irony—would hate Eggers and his late satirical magazine, Might, right along with this masterly memoir. That is a shame because, despite Eggers's inability to take anything seriously on its surface, this meandering story rests on a foundation of sincerity that is part of Purdy's rallying cry. Amid countless digressions, Eggers relates two tales: his mostly successful, if unconventional attempt at raising his much younger brother following their parents' deaths and his years founding and then witnessing the slow demise of Might. Throughout, Eggers eschews any contrivance. The expected tales of emotional longing, political alienation, and creative struggle by a smart twentysomething are replaced by a stream of hilarious, how-it-happened anecdotes; often inane, how-we-really-talk dialog; and quick jabs at some of our society's bizarre conventions. In the end one is left with a surprisingly moving tale of family bonding and resilience as well as the nagging suspicion that maybe he made the whole thing up. In any case, as compared with the spate of recent reminiscences by earnest youngsters, Eggers delivers a worthwhile story told in perfect pitch to the material. Highly recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.
Library Journal


This fierce, funny memoir lives up to its tongue-in-cheek title. When Eggers was a senior in college, his parents both died of cancer, only five weeks apart, and he found that he had inherited his eight-year-old brother. He and young Toph (short for Christopher) leave Chicago for Berkley, California, to live near older siblings, but Eggers is the one who serves as chief surrogate parent. The two set up a slovenly bachelor household together, and Eggers attempts to start a career while taking care of his brother, undertaking both endeavors in a rather haphazard but energetic and deeply felt manner. The brothers play Frisbee endlessly and practice sock sliding in their various abodes, eating dishes like "The Mexican-Italian War" (ground beef sautéed in spaghetti sauce, served with tortillas), arriving late to everything but somehow, just barely, keeping it together. The first half of the book, relating the death of Eggers' mother and the move west, is particularly powerful. Wild black humor pops up at the oddest points, however, and Eggers is nothing if not self-conscious, as he keeps pointing out to the reader. Eggers and some friends started a magazine named Might, and much of the second half of the book has to do with keeping this venture afloat. The paperback edition includes a lengthy new appendix, "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making," correcting and annotating parts of the text, and the preface and acknowledgements sections—and even the information on the verso page—are quirky and funny. Eggers is a talented writer, and the story of his patched-together family and his forays into magazine publishing are well worth reading, but strap yourself in for a wild ride. Adult language.
KLIATT


"A memoir," says the book's cover, "based on a true story." Readers are advised in the preface that "many parts have been fictionalized," but it is not really clear how much is "real" here and how much is spoof.... Eggers voices the classic youthful assumption that the world belongs (or should belong) to him. From anyone else this might be incredibly annoying, but so much is tongue-in-cheek in this work.... This is a very entertaining, well-written book. —Grace Fill
Booklist


It isn't but its better than most novel-like objects created by our younger writers, and like them, this one is directly autobiographical, ironic, and self-referential, concluding with a tiny gesture of hope the author no doubt considers brave given the vicissitudes hes retailed in prose. It is a potpourri of young gestures: David Wallaces intricate cataloguing of smart trivia; Rick Moodys detached, incisive portraiture of white suburban America; Bret Elliss seen-it-all spiritual fatigue; and a dollop of Michael Chabons candy-coated, hope-flavored insight. After a relentless preface and introduction (in which readers are instructed they could profitably read only the first 109 pages, a nice length, a nice novella sort of length), Eggers duly produces his imaginations ripe fruit: the death of both parents, by cancer, a month apart, when he was in his 20s. With younger brother Toph in tow, Eggers takes flight to San Francisco, moves about, discovers mild poverty, and tries out for MTVs popular The Real World. His unsuccessful interview, reprinted here, discloses a hard shell of pre-emptive irony, intended, no doubt, to deflect authentic emotions and qualify him for the show. (Eggers doesnt believe in dignity or privacy, for starters.) He doesnt make it, but his unsated desire to demonstrate his grief/rage/detachment leads him, with friends, to found Might magazine, which has a modestly successful run. Mights staging of the death of Adam Rich (Nicholas from Eight Is Enough) is briefly amusing, but only Toph shares Eggers pleasure in mocking celebrities while appearing to valorize them, and as this self-approving account concludes, a frisbee game with the wise kid results in a pure moment of grace, curiously intertwined with a crucifixion-martyr motif, in which Eggers is the suffering truth-teller. It is evidently hard to have been Eggers, though few readers will be satisfied with this nugget of hard-won wisdom in return for their investment of time and good will.
Kirkus Reviews




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