A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers

Paperback, 2001

Call number

BIO EGGERS

Collection

Publication

Vintage (2001), Edition: Reprint, 437 pages

Description

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elsinore21
So pretentious! So boring!
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 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 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 GoofyOcean110
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 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 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 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 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.
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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 jenconnected
I truly despised this book, but I made myself finish it.
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 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 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)
LibraryThing member WildMaggie
I tried to force myself to keep at this one but life is just too short. The first few chapters are heartbreaking and compelling. Eggers could have ended it there as a great novella. But after that, the book (up to about the middle where I gave it up) is neither. Nor is it even particularly interesting. It turns into over-long rantings and navel-gazings of a very young person who writes like he's the first to ever have to raise a kid he didn't plan to while his friends are carefree. About a gazillion young women have found themselves stuck in the same place. But when it's some guy, we're supposed to find his whining to be great literature? Nah. Where's a decent editor when you need one? For a really good take on this theme, try Anne Tyler's novel Saint Maybe.… (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 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 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 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 noranydrop2read
What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I put off reading it, despite the delicious title. After attempting to read Infinite Jest years ago, I was a bit off self-conscious postmodernism. This is a difficult book to review. The opening pages are...worthless, story-wise. "Rules and Suggestions for the Enjoyment of This Book" are almost unbearably clever. I flipped through them without thoroughly reading them. I recommend this approach. Later developments will make you glad for a passing knowledge of the self-referential (Hi! I'm writing a clever novel! See me writing a clever novel?) parody of a preface, but don't torture yourself by reading it word for word. For the first fifty or so pages, I was wondering, "Is Eggers brilliant, too clever for his own good, or both?" And then I got sucked into the story. Eggers is a brilliant writer with a gripping story: as a young man, he becomes an orphan and de facto single parent, trying to give his younger brother, Toph, the childhood he should have had. Less engaging is the considerable time Eggers spends on his tenure at Might Magazine, an above-it-all publication produced by a group of disillusioned young adults infatuated with their own cleverness. I simply didn't care about the magazine or the people devoted to it.

The description of his mother's end-of-life saga is difficult to read, not because it's clunky or poorly written, but because Eggers has captured the truth of dying in a painful, exquisitely beautiful way. And the relationship with the younger brother is equally well-written and beautiful. Eggers uses outrageous hyperbole to great effect, and if the reader is unsure how much of a grain of salt is required in the reading, well - that's life, isn't it? It's all relative, and what's true in Eggers's mind as he raises this child is not a lie, just as an outsider's perception is its own truth. Small, pedestrian struggles, like the desperate need for a washer/dryer are given equal weight with the bigger problems such as sister Beth keeping Toph in touch with his memories by pulling out photo albums while Eggers works harder to keep Toph distracted from the fact of his orphanhood. Eggers's parenting seems at turns irresponsible (as in the hideous weekly menu of bachelor dishes) and heartbreakingly conscious (as in his evaluation of potential girlfriends based entirely on their view of Toph and their life together).

Eggers goes all the way with his cleverness, and like all risks, some pay off, while some fall flat. An extended "transcript" of an interview to be on MTV's The Real World is used to reveal extensive background on Dave, and quickly becomes tiresome. And the disclaimer that, of course, Eggers realizes that it's a cheap literary device, doesn't excuse the tedium. I don't care how postmodern you are -- don't pull me out of the story. The list of "recipes" for disgusting bachelor food, though, was surprisingly touching and hilarious. The gimmicky ending, reeking of Joyce or Salinger, somehow worked for me. It brought the story to a satisfying close on an emotional note.

I'm not sure how to sum up this review, really. There's brilliance, but a too-clever edge that could have been edited out for a better story. Worth reading? Absolutely.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
The title of this memoir with fictionalized parts can seem misleading until you get to know the narrator who is given to hyperbole. This is actually a very entertaining listen which surprised me.
LibraryThing member Noonecanstop
Good book but there was something wrong with it. At the beginning he says to stop reading at a certain page and he was right. Very good first attempt at a book but needs to be condensed a bit. I did finish it but it was a stretch.
LibraryThing member Narboink
What is there left to say about this book? A decade ago it hit the bookshelves and became a kind of generational sensation; a heartfelt examination of anxiety, ambition and loss. It's a good book... better than I thought it would be. One of the things that makes it interesting is that it is essentially an autobiography of a very ordinary person, albeit a privileged and relatively gifted person. Some have criticized Eggers for being "self-involved," etc., but I find this criticism to be fundamentally ridiculous. Anyone at all concerned with truth must make their own peace with the centrality of self, especially if such a person decides to write (or read) an autobiographical novel.

Written in (and about) his youth, A.H.W.O.S.G. captures Eggers in his most unapologetically naïve, boastful and vulnerable moments. I reads like something that was written very quickly; which apparently it was. This, in other words, is the opposite of the kind of book that might be produced by a mature author (i.e., sans the wizened magnanimity that is often the final fruit of a contemplative life). And yet, what makes it wonderful is that it eschews any comparison to such books by being confidently resolute in its own right - even obligation - to exist. Literary pretensions aside, this uncompromising sentiment at the book's core is lovely (and lasting) in itself.

One additional note: over the years Eggers' distinctive style has been a relatively easy target for parody. I find this to be one of the clearest indicators of an original voice.
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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 renbedell
It took me a while to realize this was a memoir or creative non-fiction, and not fiction. It was highly entertaining, funny, tragic, and a little ADD. There is not much of a plot, but is just a story of Dave Eggers after his parents pass away. He balances all the moments that would be more heart-wrenching with comedy. For the most part the book is largely funny. The ending starts to become intense and you start to feel his suffering a bit more. He likes to rant a lot about his thoughts and worries, which to me seem more honest and realistic as they are usually inane, stupid, overly dramatic, or sexual. I can see reading this book can at times seems boring or pointless, but I listened to the audiobook narrated by Dion Graham, and it was absolutely amazing. He made everything seem so real. His voice acting was great, he made the rants more funny, and he really expressed emotion that Dave Eggers may have be trying to portray.… (more)

Pages

496

ISBN

0375725784 / 9780375725784
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