A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers

Paperback, 2001

Call number




Vintage (2001), Edition: Reprint, 437 pages


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 spywall
I really just want to punch this asshole and tell him to get a grip, blow his nose and move on. Everyone's story is sad, everyone dies eventually and that the more people you know, the more dead people you know...We are a lot alike. I'm going to go drink....
LibraryThing member elsinore21
So pretentious! So boring!
LibraryThing member miriamparker
5 stars for the HILARIOUS and brilliant front matter. One star for the boring navel gazing memoir. So, the average is three.
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 litelady-ajh
Couldn't get through this one. I don't know if this is the work of a Genius, or just an insane person.
LibraryThing member cestovatela
I really adored some parts of this book and hated others. I think Dave Eggers was writing in part to expunge his guilty over his parents' deaths by making us hate him as much as he hated himself, but this made for some tedious reading sometimes. It was an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it worked.
LibraryThing member bfertig
I liked it, despite the overstatement of the title (on both counts). I liked the frenetic pacing, the cathartic rambling peppered with the immediacy of random observations/musings interrupting but not derailing the train of thought, the postmodernist(?) arguments with the character John, and yes, even the solopsism.

I'm sensing a pattern of fascination with fictionalized/amalgomized personal tragedy by Eggers, between this, What is the What, and his (newest?) book on Katrina victims, which I am interested to read now.… (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 punkeymonkey529
A lot of people seem to either love this book or hate it. For my first time reading it I put myself in the middle. I know thats hard to say but it's true. Through the story he was telling and quotes of inspiration I felt a connection at times.At times I did find it difficult to read, but in all it was a great inspirational read.… (more)
LibraryThing member jenconnected
I truly despised this book, but I made myself finish it.
LibraryThing member traciolsen
I loved this book so much when it came out. I read his two following books, which just annoyed me with their "I am a hipster so achingly self aware I can barely function" -ness. I hear his newest is better, so maybe I will give him another shot.
LibraryThing member dele2451
As entertaining and life-affirming as a book that deals largely with lingering deaths, orphans, suicidal friends and miscellaneous other major calamities can be. Mr Eggers somehow catches those fleeting, horrible but strangely hilarious thoughts that race through the recesses of all our minds, but we would never be quick enough (or possibly brave enough) to put down on paper. Honestly, I'd have given it a 5, but the frisbee stories got a little old. A definite recommend.… (more)
LibraryThing member Katie_H
This is a refreshing and honest memoir in a genre where the reader often wonders if truth exists at all. 22-year-old Dave Eggers is forced to grow up quickly when his parents die from cancer within 5 weeks of each other, and he is left to care for his 7-year-old brother, Toph. Dave candidly shares the challenges that he faced while securing a future for Toph and simultaneously finding his own path in life. It may have be an unconventional household, and one that hardly ever got cleaned, but love was in full supply. His story is completely egocentric, but it is also hilarious, emotional, and witty. Throughout the text, the author provides his own criticisms of himself and his writing, so the reader is left with nothing to criticize. The book was uniquely presented: Eggers begins with a preface describing how to enjoy the book, even recommending sections to skip if the reader is "short on time." He ends the book with an addendum that points out sections that are embellished or altered for the sake of interesting storytelling. I thought the narrative went on was too long, and the informal writing style isn't for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it overall.… (more)
LibraryThing member smully
Neither heartbreaking nor genius. I know I am "supposed" to appreciate the authors shallow quirky randomness clashing with the more serious topic of him losing his parents, but YAWN. I was annoyed while I read it. I just wanted to shake my head and get it out of there.
LibraryThing member louisu
I was over at a friends the other night for a homecooked meal. Yes that is right someone was spioling me with a homecooked meal. Delicious i shall say. Hots off to the lady of the house. As is my habit whenever I happen to find myself in someone else's house there are two things that i can do to pass the time when left alone. As a man who loves to cook i can go through their kitchen, fridge, or general food space discovering other people's dirty kitchen secrets. This often works only if i want to never get invited to their home again. The other thing is browse their bookshelves. I mean i can go into someone's house for the millionth time and always look at the same books. Always i find something that garners my full attention. This time i picked up the aforementioned title. My friend said that is a great book. That i could borrow it. I immediately put into my bag. As per the speical honor of having been loaned a book i decided to forego the hundreds of book in my apartment clammering to be read and startied reading it right away.
The most heartwrenching scenes is the first part of the book going into very detailed slow decline of his mother's health. This description is peppered throughout the book and is at times very difficult to read if you have ever lost a loved one to an illness. At one point i had to put it down for it brought some memories i had not forgotten , but had put away hoping not to have had to bring them out again. I let them walk around for a while: in the end put them away for another day.
This is not a easy book to read. It is not so much the writing style that moves from straight dialogue to harsh and bitter insights into the writers throughts and actions. Some scenes are absolutely amazing where he starts these long coversations beating himself up and driving strange points about the story to light. the conversations occurs between him and his younger brotehr but are more him talking to himself than his younger brother. It is amazing to read about how he takes care of his little brother after the death of both of their parents from cancer in less than five weeks time. You can see how much the writer takes on but much of the time everything is from his perspective. His siblings reaction to thier deaths is never often touched upon. There are vague hints as to Toph's reactions but little of that is taken into consideration. If there is one thing i would like to have seen is how these events shaped their lives. You get glimpses of their reactions and situations but very little of their actual presence is felt in this book.
This book is a great exploration of youth in America, specifically upper middle class youth and their exploration of their ideas and contempt for society. A group of people often as not left searching for direction after coming into adulthood not quite knowing what it means to be an adult. Yet through all this exploration one of them is raising a kid. Scary!!!! Great book and realize the writer is like many people from his background and age group self centered and idealistic about almost everything.
Read it for this is a book about mourning and grief that occurs over a period of six years. Take the time read it right.
… (more)
LibraryThing member TAU67SEu
I did not finish it.

I think it's unfair towards the author to complain that the book was neither funny, sad, original nor well written, since he clearly didn't intend for it to have any of those qualities. Usually I can understand that people have different taste than me, but this book is universally bad.… (more)
LibraryThing member birdmaddgirl
to my reading the self-indulgence, the overly intentional cleverness, the form are all part and parcel of the content. i am touched that dave eggers had the courage to put all of his ugliest thoughts and behaviors out there. i don't take it as a celebration of those aspects of his character. i think he paints an honest portrait of his internal landscape, and sometimes that internal landscape shows a pretty shitty person. that's not to say that you'd ever end up liking the book, but what i took away from it by the end was not that he wrote this book to be self-aggrandizing, but in some way to purge himself of behaviors and attitudes that he's not necessarily proud of, but that are real and are human and that everyone experiences at some points. he admits to his sense of entitlement, and my perception was that he is in some ways revolted by it, but does not reject it or disown it. perhaps having those self-centered thoughts so compactly presented (obviously there is a good deal of telescoping of time in the novel/memoir) makes for an impossible read for some people. i can distill my adoration of eggers into a single word: sincerity. i don't believe he spares himself at all and i admire him immensely for it.… (more)
LibraryThing member piefuchs
Critically overrated but worth reading. I would classify this as a worthy quick read or commuting/airplane book if you are into melodrama.
LibraryThing member comfypants
A significant chunk of the book is great, if somewhat depressing. Much of the rest of it, while usually clever, isn't particularly interesting. Amusingly, Eggers is not only aware of that, but comes right out to tell you at the start of the book which parts are good and which parts 'you might want to skip.' I had taken the warning as a joke, but it turned out to be frustratingly accurate.… (more)
LibraryThing member PirateJenny
I'd read a few essays by the author and thought they were completely hysterical. Indeed, even the contents of this book were hysterical. But the memoir part, not so much. Oh, it was well-written without a doubt. However, a memoir about the loss of parents, merely months apart, while in college is not the most cheery of subjects. And I personally found it difficult to get through. I'm sure this is partly because of my mom, though she's determined to outlive (by far) and of the prognoses of any of her doctors. But it was also just depressing. It was actually making me depressed. (Sometimes I think I get too involved in the books I read.) But that's also a testament to the author's ability. I recommend it, if you can deal with it better than I did.… (more)
LibraryThing member nog
I have to agree with the 1 and 2 star reviewers here who call this book self-indulgent and overrated. You should care, but you don't, because the author is too wrapped up in seeing how cutesy he can be, language-wise. It just wore me down, until I said to myself, screw it, I can't make it the rest of the way. And since I was pretty far in, I feel like a fool for thinking this crap was gonna improve. The fact that I found this book lying on a seat in an airport lounge should have alerted me, I guess. Another book in a gazillion libraries here, so that depresses me.… (more)
LibraryThing member lucysmom
On the whole I enjoyed this clever memoir written by someone who is around the same age as my sons. The first half of the book was funny. I found the opening sections, acknowledgments, how-to-read, very clever and unique. However, things started to fall apart and get a bit self-indulgent in the middle. Toward the end things picked up again. On the whole I enjoyed the journey.… (more)
LibraryThing member Well-ReadNeck
The title is the best part of this book. The in-your-face humor gets old very quickly.
LibraryThing member SadieBabie
I swithered between 2 and 3 stars here, and I'm still not decided whether I hated this book or didn't mind it. There were parts I really did appreciate - the torn emotions, memories and feelings surrounding dead relatives I felt was very honest and realistic; the relationship between Toph and Dave, and Dave's struggles in trying to raise his brother were touching, funny and relatable; the prose at times was simply gorgeous. But I just couldn't make myself like Eggers, or his lazy and selfish older siblings. There were too many bitty characters whose existence added nothing to the story. And Jesus, what was the preface and addendum crap all about?! Yeah...I can't make up my mind on this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
It's the story of Eggers as a young adult faced with having to take care of his younger brother after losing both his parents to cancer. It's sad and funny. Witty and sarcastic. It took my much longer to read because I had to drink every little word. I read the Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book, the Preface to this Edition, the Contents, Achknowledgments, even Mistakes We Knew We Were Making which contains notes, corrections, clarifications, apologies, and addenda. Too funny.… (more)




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