A heartbreaking work of staggering genius

by Dave Eggers

Hardcover, 2000




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000


A compelling voice for Generation X, Eggers here recounts his early 20s, caring for his younger brother after their parents' unexpected deaths and his endeavors in a variety of media.

Media reviews

''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.
5 more
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.
Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
Eggers delivers a worthwhile story told in perfect pitch to the material.
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.
Kirkus Reviews
It isn't... 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This memoir tells of the author's family. His parents died in 1991 and 1992 and the author took his 8-year-old brother with him to San Francisco, where they lived near the author's sister. The author was involved with Might magazine and spent a lot of tome doing stupid things, as well as caring for his brother, The work is seriously disfigured by totally excessive use of obscene and blasphemous language which adds nothing to the account, but makes the reading of the book repeatedly disgusting. I was very glad to get to the last page. Why did I read it? Amazon's recent list of "100 books one should read in a lifetime" includes the book and my reading this book brings to 56 the number of books on that list I have read.… (more)
LibraryThing member ljpower
The writing style took some time in which to get comfortable but once I began to understand the thoughts behind Eggers' words, I enjoyed the book more and more. His necessary progression toward adult responsibilities is in contrast to his desires to simply be like his peers and this provides one of the many conflicts in this novel. Life is sometimes unfair but Eggers shows that the natural progression must be forward-looking. Dwelling on what could have been and denying yourself from grieving over tragedy can become a paralyzing process. He had to learn many of life's lessons quickly because he took on the responsibility for others. Other readers could look to this book as an example of the thought process in the time of adversity. Every decision or act that is done is a progression in life and remember that you are not alone in meeting the struggles of life.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookJoy17
Dave loses both of his parents to cancer, and he is left to take care of his younger brother Toph. He works for a magazine. A good book if you look past the bad language, a few of his obsessions, and Randomness.
LibraryThing member DRFP
No, it's not really heartbreaking, and it's not a work of genius either. It's still a very good book however.

Probably the best passages of AHWOSG occur at the start when Eggers describes the condition of his mother prior to her death. Those first 45 pages are truly excellent.

The rest of the work.... Well, it varies. I'm not one for stream of conscious and sometimes Eggers over does it; on other occasions though he's very pithy and amusing. I suppose the ultimate testament to Egger's skill is the fact that he writes in such a self-knowing, self-mocking manner and successfully treads the line without becoming irritating or sounding arrogant.

With the position he's come to occupy in the literary world it is perhaps easy to look back on this work and read it as the "woe is me" tale of a smug know-it-all. However, I think Egger's heart shines through here, back when he was writing this at the turn of the millennium before any real success.

AHBOSG isn't an earth shattering book, but it's a good tale told very well and, I believe, an important product of its time.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
An achingly hip, smugly knowing and oddly cheery version of a misery memoir. Eggers freely admits that the book is rambling, uneven and filled to overflowing with post-modern fanciness, and he's right. Still, if you're pulled in by the title, as I was, then you'll enjoy the author's style; if not, there's no point cracking the spine.… (more)
LibraryThing member lunza
Do not attempt to read the first chapter of this book while eating.
LibraryThing member angelm45
Eggers is a talented writer, which is the only reason I give him any stars at all. His style is fresh and sometimes funny. His self-absorbtion quickly grew tiresome though, and it is difficult to get through a book whose narrator you really dislike! My sympathy for Eggers, which was plentiful when I started reading, steadily evaporated as I made my way through the book. In the end, I just found him annoying and a little too impressed with himself.… (more)
LibraryThing member jensenmk82
An impressive, but also self-indulgent work. Reading Eggers is rarely dull!
LibraryThing member petterw
After having read Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgard´s aitobiographical series "Min kamp", it was interesting (to say the least) to read Eggers´ autobiography. His approach is a bit more cautious than Knausgard´s; he admits to have changed names, and the book is closer to a book of fiction than the Min Kamp series. Also, Eggers bases his story on one particular part of his life: the loss of both his parents and his raising of his younger brother. It is nevertheless a tour-de-force of a book. Although the author at times seems to be too smug for his own good, he comments on it and in a way involves the reader into the reasoning behind telling the story in the way and manner he does. Some of the segments of the book are really inventively written, like the casting interview with MTV, others are incredibly strong and touching, like the sequence about his receiving his mother´s ashes. I wish I had left all the prefaces to the very end, these made more sensing reading after I had finished the main part of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who will be looking for an easy read that will challenge you all the way, and who enjoys authors that pour themselves into their storytelling.… (more)
LibraryThing member Gerard670
Reading Eggers' debut thirteen years after its publication, after only recently being informed about the 'New Sincerity'-movement allegedly co-started by him, I wasn't very much prejudiced. I bought the book when it was translated into Dutch, in the hardcover version. Only now I see the cover is taken from a painting by Komar and Melamid - I allready had a reproduction of one of their social-realist Stalin-pranks at the wall.of my study, same color scheme. Maybe that and the bravoura title did the trick in the bookshop at the time. Or perhaps I did read a review and have forgotten.

Now I have read the piece of James Wood about 'hysterical realism'.

What do I make of this novel:
1. Some chapters are way too long. Tiresome are some gimmicks: (a) Eggers' supposed worrying about Toph's surely going to die while he is away (sentimental too, Eggers trying to win our sympathy) (b) other boring because repeated and extensively written down daydreaming of Eggers

2. Eggers is convincing in his evocation of the feeling that death is no fun at all. In particular: there is no convincing consolation. No story puts it all in place, reconciles you with human beings passing away and then they're gone.

3. It's far too long and the adventures in real time (MIght-magazine) are not that interesting, which is saying the same thing twice.

I don't understand why David Foster Wallace called this "a ruthless book" (I have only read the translation of his quote on the cover). The novel is too sloppy to be called 'urgent'.
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LibraryThing member ElOsoBlanco
I felt like this book served as a lesson on the use of literary devices in non-fiction. I enjoyed the recurring paranoid moments inside Egger's head, and the frequent frisbee sessions.
LibraryThing member MM_Jones
I've read & enjoyed some recent nonfiction books by this author and turned to some of his earlier writings. This book has been labeled as brilliant, but I'm not a fan of this "stream of consciousness" writing. Too many words to say to little.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
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.)
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LibraryThing member claudio.svaluto
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
LibraryThing member catalogthis
My love for this book is improbable at best. I usually can't stand this kind of style. In the summary above, Mary Park calls it memoir as metafiction. I call it McSweeneyism. I find it excruciating.So the fact that I love AHWOSG -- can still remember the first line, in fact -- perplexes me. I try not to dwell on it. Maybe you don't need a reason to fall in love, with a book or anything else.… (more)


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