Mar 9, 2014

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Well, this was certainly a challenge. It took me two days to get through the preface alone, and I'll admit I merely scanned the appendix. This is Eggers' first book, a memoir (mostly) that launched him onto the national literary stage. Most of the praise is deserved; it's completely unique, a look inside someone's brain where that brain doesn't work quite the same way as most. Or maybe it does, we just aren't self-aware enough to have the ability or courage to write it down and publish it. It's overwhelming at times. Imagine spending a week inside someone else's mind, hearing all their thoughts, their paranoia, fantasies, fears. Then imagine that person being a bit too smart for his own good, a narcissist with a fatal mixture of low self-esteem. Add onto that the fact his parents both died of cancer within five weeks of each other and, at the age of 23, he's raising his 7-year-old brother. The book is pretty much the definition of metacognition, an act of literary masturbation in which Eggers alternately tries to convince himself that he is a terrible parental substitute and his brother will inevitably end up dead, or that he's the most amazing parent who ever lived and his brother is incredibly lucky to have him. It's a very interesting read, but I'm glad Eggers now sticks to fiction, because I don't think I could handle another heartbreaking work, be it of staggering genius or not.

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