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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000)

by Dave Eggers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,348306,483 (3.49)234
One of the most mesmerizing memoirs of the literary season: a wrenching, hilarious, and stylistically groundbreaking story of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. "Well, this was when Bill was sighing a lot. He had decided that after our parents died he just didn't want any more fighting between what was left of us. He was twenty-four, Beth was twenty-three, I was twenty-one, Toph was eight, and all of us were so tired already, from that winter. So when something would come up, any little thing, some bill to pay or decision to make, he would just sigh, his eyes tired, his mouth in a sorry kind of smile. But Beth and I ... Jesus, we were fighting with everyone, anyone, each other, with strangers at bars, anywhere -- we were angry people wanting to exact revenge. We came to California and we wanted everything, would take what was ours, anything within reach. And I decided that little Toph and I, he with his backward hat and long hair, living together in our little house in Berkeley, would be world-destroyers. We inherited each other and, we felt, a responsibility to reinvent everything, to scoff and re-create and drive fast while singing loudly and pounding the windows. It was a hopeless sort of exhilaration, a kind of arrogance born of fatalism, I guess, of the feeling that if you could lose a couple of parents in a month, then basically anything could happen, at any time -- all bullets bear your name, all cars are there to crush you, any balcony could give way; more disaster seemed only logical. And then, as in Dorothy's dream, all these people I grew up with were there, too, some of them orphans also, most but not all of us believing that what we had been given was extraordinary, that it was time to tear or break down, ruin, remake, take and devour. This was San Francisco, you know, and everyone had some dumb idea -- I mean, wicca? -- and no one there would tell you yours was doomed. Thus the public nudity, and this ridiculous magazine, and the Real World tryout, all this need, most of it disguised by sneering, but all driven by a hyper-awareness of this window, I guess, a few years when your muscles are taut, coiled up and vibrating. But what to do with the energy? I mean, when we drive, Toph and I, and we drive past people, standing on top of all these hills, part of me wants to stop the car and turn up the radio and have us all dance in formation, and part of me wants to run them all over."--Excerpt from chapter 5.… (more)
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» See also 234 mentions

English (27)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Sigh.
I think someone commented on the title, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and commented that it wasn’t.
I must agree. This was a waste of good paper.
( )
  kent23124 | May 19, 2023 |
A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS is delightful. Dave Eggers has a writing style like I’ve never read before. What would otherwise be, for example, sad or serious, he lightens. My gosh, he even makes the copyright page enjoyable reading! And I'm glad I read a hardcover copy and could see the cover minus the dust jacket. Check it out if you can.

This is a memoir. Eggers explains that he wouldn’t really call A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS a true story because he made up the dialog. And sometimes that dialog is obviously his invention, such as when a 9-year-old boy talks with the maturity of a 30-year-old man or when he begins with his MTV interview that turns into something else. I sometimes had to re-read to understand what he was doing.

Before the beginning of A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS Eggers notes all the parts you can safely skip. But that made me want to read them all the more, and I didn’t skip anything. I admit, though, after 100 or so pages his style sometimes aggravated me, his constant repetition, so I did skim some paragraphs. Even though I could tell that those paragraphs represented his private thought processes, I sometimes found them disjointed and monotonous.

Most reviews of this book concentrate on only part of the story, he and his little brother. Yes, Eggers raises his much younger brother, Toph, after their parents died. And, of course, Toph is a big part of the story, occupying Eggers' thoughts most of the time.

But he also emphasizes all the energy he simultaneously expends on a startup magazine. Poor Eggers is always exhausted.

Also running throughout his story are his remembrances of his mother, beginning near her end. Yet he doesn't have much to say about his father, apparently an alcoholic.

Eggers' memoir has three main subjects, not just one. Probably most readers find his relationship with Toph to be the most touching. ( )
  techeditor | Aug 30, 2021 |
A memoir. I don't know if it is heartbreaking or by a staggering genius. The guy is talented, that we know, and generous too.

Dave Eggers tells of his childhood, to an extent, and of his early times working with a little gang on a techie project, and especially of his times with Toph, his kid brother. They lost their parents when Toph was still quite young, so Dave grabs him and moves from one coast to the other, and serves as both parents as best he can.

The story is told with many side notes, where as the author he steps in and comments. Much of it is funny, some is sad, and most is to a degree self-conscious. But he doesn't seem to step over the line into navel-gazing.

I read this long enough ago that although I remember it I don't have details in my memory so can not produce more of a review. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
I abandoned this quickly. It is clearly incredible but I didn't have it in me to go through so much sadness at the time ( )
  claudio.svaluto | Jul 31, 2019 |
Digital audio read by Dion Graham

Water the Flowers!

I had heard about this memoir when it first came out and had it on my TBR ever since. I was intrigued by a book written by a young man who took on the responsibility for raising his much younger brother after both their parents died within a few weeks of one another. I expected some tragic, emotionally charged scenes and some sense of enlightenment or inspiration. I read another book by Eggers and really enjoyed it, so when the audio finally came in from the library, I was pleased to finally get to this on our long drive to Texas.

It’s clear that Eggers is intelligent. Obviously the circumstances that resulted in his guardianship of his baby brother were tragic, and every older sibling’s nightmare. I should have read the reviews by Goodreads members before I decided to finally read / listen to the book.

I found Eggers self-absorbed, immature, irresponsible and totally lacking in any insight. I really pity his little brother who might have been better off raised by wolves.

The most entertaining part of the book is the forward/preface/acknowledgments/copyright notice … which on the audiobook are read at the very end. Had this come first, I might have gone into the book expecting something more on the lines of satire, and (while satire is not my favorite genre) had different expectations and a different take on the work. But I went into it expecting a memoir of a tragic and difficult time in a young man’s life, and some reflection / insight / growth in character as a result. Too bad for me. Well, the preface,etc gets him one star.

Dion Graham does a reasonably good job reading the audiobook. Not his fault that the F bomb is used so often or that the writer gives us a manic narrative. (Not helped by my decision to listen at double speed to get through the 13 hours faster.) ( )
  BookConcierge | Dec 12, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
''A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'' is a book of finite jest, which is why it succeeds so brilliantly. Eggers's most powerful prose is often his most straightforward, relying on old-fashioned truth telling for its punch.
 
Dave Eggers's new book, ''A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,'' is part autobiography, part postmodern collage, a novelistic ''memoir-y kind of thing'' that tells the sad, awful, tragic story of how the author's mother and father died within weeks of each other and how he became a surrogate parent to his 8-year-old brother, and tells it with such style and hyperventilated, self-conscious energy, such coy, Lettermanesque shtick and such genuine, heartfelt emotion, that the story is at once funny, tender, annoying and, yes, heartbreaking -- an epic, in the end, not of woe, though there's plenty of that too, but an epic about family and how families fracture and fragment and somehow, through all the tumult and upset, manage to endure.
 
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.
added by Shortride | editPublishers Weekly
 
Eggers delivers a worthwhile story told in perfect pitch to the material.
added by Shortride | editLibrary Journal, Eric Bryant
 
Eggers' seemingly flippant, but piercingly observant style, allows hilarity to lead the way in a very personal and revealing recounting of the loss of his parents.
added by Shortride | editBooklist, Grace Fill
 

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dave Eggersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Graham, DionNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pardoen, IrvingTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
First of all: I am tired. I am true of heart! And also: You are tired. You are true of heart!
Dedication
Change and contentment via together-rising boats; The reckless encouragement of blue sky research; A mountain for every little person; A flood for New York.
First words
Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic.
Quotations
We feel that to reveal embarrassing or private things, we have given someone something, that, like a primitive person fearing that a photograph will steal his soul, we identify our secrets, our past and their blotches, with our identity, that revealing habits or losses or deeds somehow makes one less of oneself.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish this Dave Egger's orignal published Work, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), from its later reprint, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Mistakes We Knew We Were Making (2001). As the Work titles suggest, the reprint includes an additional piece, "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making," that's not included in the original publication.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

One of the most mesmerizing memoirs of the literary season: a wrenching, hilarious, and stylistically groundbreaking story of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses both of his parents to cancer and inherits his eight-year-old brother. "Well, this was when Bill was sighing a lot. He had decided that after our parents died he just didn't want any more fighting between what was left of us. He was twenty-four, Beth was twenty-three, I was twenty-one, Toph was eight, and all of us were so tired already, from that winter. So when something would come up, any little thing, some bill to pay or decision to make, he would just sigh, his eyes tired, his mouth in a sorry kind of smile. But Beth and I ... Jesus, we were fighting with everyone, anyone, each other, with strangers at bars, anywhere -- we were angry people wanting to exact revenge. We came to California and we wanted everything, would take what was ours, anything within reach. And I decided that little Toph and I, he with his backward hat and long hair, living together in our little house in Berkeley, would be world-destroyers. We inherited each other and, we felt, a responsibility to reinvent everything, to scoff and re-create and drive fast while singing loudly and pounding the windows. It was a hopeless sort of exhilaration, a kind of arrogance born of fatalism, I guess, of the feeling that if you could lose a couple of parents in a month, then basically anything could happen, at any time -- all bullets bear your name, all cars are there to crush you, any balcony could give way; more disaster seemed only logical. And then, as in Dorothy's dream, all these people I grew up with were there, too, some of them orphans also, most but not all of us believing that what we had been given was extraordinary, that it was time to tear or break down, ruin, remake, take and devour. This was San Francisco, you know, and everyone had some dumb idea -- I mean, wicca? -- and no one there would tell you yours was doomed. Thus the public nudity, and this ridiculous magazine, and the Real World tryout, all this need, most of it disguised by sneering, but all driven by a hyper-awareness of this window, I guess, a few years when your muscles are taut, coiled up and vibrating. But what to do with the energy? I mean, when we drive, Toph and I, and we drive past people, standing on top of all these hills, part of me wants to stop the car and turn up the radio and have us all dance in formation, and part of me wants to run them all over."--Excerpt from chapter 5.

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