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You've got to give Dave Eggers this, if nothing else, he knows how to market himself.  First he wrote this memoir, loaded with irony to appeal to Gen-Xers, continually self-referential to appeal to postmodernists, and centered around his efforts to raise his little brother after their parents both died of cancer, a sure chick magnet.  Then, having exposed most of his and his family members' lives to public view (at least in theory) he adopted a Pynchonesque/Sallingeresque reclusive pose, and feigned personal agony at having to discuss the book.  All this while cashing in big time on the supposedly "tragic" events of his life.  For these savvy ploys alone he deserves to be called a "staggering genius."

The book itself uses a host of postmodernist, ironical, satirical, self-conscious, etc., etc., etc...techniques, which are rather hackneyed and, given the ostensible topic of the book (his family tragedy), quite off-putting.  A fairly representative passage comes when he's heaving his mother's ashes (or cremains) into Lake Michigan :

    Oh this is so plain, disgraceful, pathetic--

    Or beautiful and loving and glorious!  Yes, beautiful and loving and glorious!

    But even if so, even if this is right and beautiful, and she is tearing up while watching, so
    proud--like what she said to me when I carried her, when she had the nosebleed and I carried her
    and she said that she was proud of me, that she did not think I could do it, that I would be able to
    lift her, carry her to the car, and from the car into the hospital, those words run through my head
    every day, have run through every day since, she did not think I could do it but of course I did it.  I
    knew I would do it, and I know this, I know what I am doing now, that I am doing something both
    beautiful but gruesome because I am destroying its beauty by knowing that it might be beautiful,
    know that if I know I am doing something beautiful, that it's no longer beautiful.   I fear that even
    if it is beautiful in the abstract, that my doing it knowing that it's beautiful and worse, knowing that
    I will very soon be documenting it, that in my pocket is a tape recorder brought for just that
    purpose--that all this makes this act of potential beauty somehow gruesome.  I am a monster.  My
    poor mother.  She would do this without the thinking, without the thinking about thinking--

Yeah sure, I get it, the way he's having this discussion shows that he understands what's going on, yadda, yadda, yadda...  But unfortunately, the point he's making is more accurate than his style is clever.  There simply is something gruesome about this kind of mannered irony and the way, throughout his life, that he seems to interpret his experiences through the filter of the book he plans to write.

At the point where every thought, emotion, and action in your life must be considered for how it will appear in print, you've become a fictional character rather than a real human being.  And by creating so much distance between the character of Dave Eggers and the supposedly tragic events of his life, Eggers (the author) makes it really hard for the reader to care much.  I finished the book unstaggered and heart unbroken, but grudgingly forced to admit that the literary world has a potential new genius, a writer with a genius for self promotion the likes of which we've not seen since Norman Mailer; and we all know how the Norman Mailer story has gone : badly.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Autobiography
Book-related and General Links:
    -McSweeney's
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
    -REVIEW : of The! Greatest! of! Marlys! By Lynda Barry (Dave Eggers, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Adopting Alyosha A Single Man Finds a Son in Russia. By Robert Klose (Dave Eggers, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Trail Fever by Michael Lewis (David Eggers, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW :   Dave Eggers on creativity in the wake of tragedy.  (KAREN E. STEEN | December 2001, Metropolis)
    -Dialog : Of Editors and Adding Machines André Schiffrin's new book argues that an  army of statisticians and business men is killing publishing. We've invited him, John Donatich and Dave Eggers to conduct an autopsy (FEED)
    -INTERVIEW : Brother Knows Best : Dave Eggers talks, with some reluctance, about the staggering work of being a genius parent. (Amy Benfer , Salon)
    -PROFILE : Cracking Eggers (Douglas Wolk, Village Voice)
    -PROFILE : A Wry Survivor of a World That Fell Apart Finds a Quick Celebrity (SARAH LYALL, 2/10/2000, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Dave Eggers Turns His Memoir Upside Down (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, February 14, 2001, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE : Bestselling Author Dave Eggers Assails New York Times Writer Over Profile : The writer of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius airs his complaints by publishing his entire e-mail correspondence with a reporter. He also says that off-the-record comments were used without his permission. (PJ Mark, Inside.com)
    -ESSAY : Culturebox Rules: Dave Eggers vs. David Kirkpatrick Who's right, the wounded memoirist or the exposed journalist?  (Eliza Truitt, Slate)
    -ESSAY : When the tiff gets going...  A hissy feud between novelist Dave Eggers and a New York journalist highlights the love-hate relationship of celebrity and press (Peter Conrad, March 11, 2001,  The Observer uk)
    -PROFILE : Eggers Surprised By Success  (James Sullivan, SF Chronicle)
    -PROFILE : A man of the people :  He refuses to meet with the media, but Dave Eggers invites fans to write poetry at his readings and buys them all drinks afterward (KIM CURTIS, April 25, 2001, Globe & Mail)
    -PROFILE : The agony and the irony :  He's the hottest literary star in America and he's  written a best-selling memoir about raising his kid brother after his parents' death. Is Dave Eggers for real?   (Stephanie Merritt, The Observer)
    -PROFILE : Bedsit genius charms US : A reclusive publishing sensation is being hailed as the new William Burroughs (Ed Vulliamy, The Observer)
    -PROFILE : Searching for the real Dave Eggers : Author of bestseller A heartbreaking work of staggering genius, Dave Eggers is notoriously distrustful of the media, refusing all telephone and in-person interview requests, It is a policy that gives rise to some unusual rumours. Who is the real Dave Eggers? (Kim Curtis, The Age)
    -ESSAY : The Null Set : Is the postmodern fiction of Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace a literary dead end? Or  is there a way out of the funhouse? Keith Gessen looks for clues. (FEED)
    -ESSAY : A staggeringly post-modern work  of literary trickery  : Stephen Moss assesses the critical reaction to Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : Too Cool for Words : Books, shmooks! The whole book-publishing business takes itself too seriously.  (JUDITH SHULEVITZ, NY Times Book Review, May 6, 2001)
    -ARCHIVES : "dave eggers" (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : "dave eggers" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "dave eggers" (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : "dave eggers" (The Guardian uk)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius By Dave Eggers (2000) (Sara Mosle, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius By Dave Eggers (William Corbett, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Brian Dillon, Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Robert Hanks, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Raymond Seitz, booksonline uk)
    -REVEW : of A Heartbreaking Work (New Statesman, William Georgiades)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Alexander Star, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Dan Savage, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers : Come to the cabaret : Failed at TV? Try writing. Adam Begley on Dave Eggers' disarming talent for self-publicity .  (July 15, 2000, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (KEN WINLAW -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers (Mark Lindquist, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of A Heartbreaking Work (Brian Dillon, Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW : of Heartbreaking Work (Ashley Fantz, MEMPHIS FLYER)

Comments:

for once i am reluctantly forced to agree with you, orrin. i found the interminable self-conscious 'disclaiming' of this book very boring and rather embarrassing

and the really annoying thing is that you can't criticise eggers, beacuse he's already criticised the book as he's writing it, and you can't criticise him for that because he's done that as well, and etc etc.....zzzzzz

- AGN

- May-21-2003, 11:49

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