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A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius and Mistakes We Knew We Were… (2000)

by Dave Eggers

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13,020203404 (3.65)3
A memoir 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. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply hearfelt story of the love that holds a family together.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
I bought A Heartbreaking work of staggering genius after several online recommendations. I found it very funny at times, poignant in the first few chapters, but then it kind of petered out from the middle of the book onwards.

I guess it makes sense, since very few people could have a consistently entertaining autobiography before their 30s, and the title of the book is very apt, not exactly in it being "heartbreaking" or a product of genius, but rather, that it's very presumptious, when not being tongue-in-cheek. I think that it's a shame, because it could have been a much better book. Certainly, the voice of the author is entertaining and it makes sense to try to obscure or illuminate some of its harsher subject matter by puffing up the chest and showing how cool Dave Eggers is. I GET it. It's a coping mechanism made literary machine. I just hoped there would have been more meat to it. Maybe if he had waited a few more years to write this it would have made for a more complete biography instead of what it ends up being: a polaroid of a brief period in time, in which a young GenXer deals with death and the mortality of his own dreams. As it is, and by being bound somewhat to the 'truth', the story doesn't reach the higher levels of drama and/or comedy as it would have in an out-and-out fiction. It makes for lackluster storytelling, and it is a byproduct of a young man saying 'LOOK. LOOK how COOL and EDGY and PITY-WORTHY my past and my GRIEF and my ANTICS make me'. Which is kind of the point of the whole book, he even says so there. I accept that, but as a literary object, it just didn't blow my mind as I thought I would. Maybe if I had read it with no preconception about its quality (though with that title, that's a hard thing to do), I would have liked it better.

Still, it may warrant a new reading in a few years and I may feel differently. I do recommend it, though, just not as an indispensible read. ( )
  marsgeverson | Jan 12, 2023 |
This memoir (/ auto fiction in parts) definitely wins is a finalist in my 'best titles' list, but did the content live up to that audacious title?

Dave Eggers' parents died of cancer within 32 days of each other when he was in his early twenties, leaving him the main guardian of his younger brother Toph, who is 13 years younger. After recounting the period of his parents' deaths in the early chapters, the rest of the books focuses on Eggers' life as he navigates the typical preoccupations of young lads that age whilst being thrust into the parenting role for his brother.

I found it mostly a poignant, honest and engaging read, save for some sections in the middle where it lost my attention for a while. His writing style reflects with candidness his diametrically opposed worlds; on the one hand he's a young, immature man who wants to take on the world and hook up with women, yet on the other he takes his role as guardian of his brother seriously. Whilst his methods of upbringing are portrayed as unconventional, veering more towards that of flat mate than parent at times, the love he has for his brother never waivers, and despite the immense restrictions it puts on his own life there is never any sense of resentment that he and not his older brother or sister has drawn the straw of guardianship.

Eggers says it likes it is, and whilst some of that may feel inappropriate to the situation there is an honesty to his writing and very much a sense of being inside the head of a young man who's dealing with hugely difficult life circumstances in the only way a young lad knows how to. Given that his brother Toph has gone on to be a screenwriter I suspect Dave Eggers underplays how much he stepped up to the plate in his parenting role and overplays the tomfoolery and casualness in their life and relationship. Beneath it all is undoubtedly immense grief that Eggers works hard to keep a lid on, allowing only chinks to show through the black humour and laddish trains of thought. Grief not only for his parents but for the regularity and consistency of regular family life and the displacement from what he had known as home.

4 stars - a third of the book was probably closer to 3.5 stars, but the more absorbing parts of the book deserve the higher rating. ( )
  AlisonY | Sep 11, 2022 |
i read this in the bathroom at 40th st. warehouse, until people started using it as toilet paper. ( )
  J.Flux | Aug 13, 2022 |
This is one of my favorite books of all time. It strikes a perfect balance between humor and poignancy. The voice is so genuine; it draws readers in and makes them feel like they're right next to the narrator as he navigates daily life. The relationship between the narrator and his brother rings true. I also liked what Eggers did in terms of experimenting with diagrams that accompanied anecdotes that might have been tossed off as frivolous otherwise but shed light on defining moments in the characters' relationship and growth as individuals. This book reminds me of a modern Catcher in the Rye but with a lot more hope and humanity, less despair. ( )
  LisaIrishWhalen | Mar 8, 2021 |
Eggers starts this running at a million miles an hour, but tries to sustain that pace for the whole book and I think that loses a lot of what makes the early parts special. It's a bit of a cut above the rest of the crowd, but not enough of a cut to really make a difference in the end. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
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Please distinguish this Dave Egger's later reprint, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Mistakes We Knew We Were Making (2001), from the orignal published Work, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). 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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A memoir 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. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply hearfelt story of the love that holds a family together.

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