A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius- Yes, Really
Let’s pretend for a second that the world ends in either fire or ice- did Robert Frost predict the upcoming 2016 presidential election? - and only one book can be salvaged. This book, taken to the moon where a few select humans will rebuild society, is the only record of the past thousands of years of literary achievement.
Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”- that’s the book I’d want on the moon.
You don’t have to agree with me. I mean, look, I love Diary of A Wimpy Kid just as much as the next guy; that stuff was arguably the best stuff ever written. But at least hear me out.
A customer once brought “A Heartbreaking Work” up to the register, intending to buy it, and I threw my arms towards the sky and shouted, “I am so excited for you! Congratulations!” Like it was her wedding day or something. I said, “You are going to be a better person after reading this,” which I now realize may have come off as an insult.
So Dear Valued Customer,
I apologize, as my goal was not to hurt your feelings by insinuating that you need Eggers’ memoir to make you a valuable homo sapien. I bet you’re a really awesome person who buys shelter dogs on National Adoption Day and only drinks out of reusable water bottles.
The Psycho You Encountered at the Register That Day
My point being: “A Heartbreaking Work” changed my life. I can only say that of novels far and few between, the ones that really make you question why you wake up every morning- cough cough Junie B. Jones and the Big Smelly Bus cough- and this memoir, this story of an everyday underdog learning to map the world around him, wormed into my head a year ago and still won’t let up.
For weeks upon first reading it, I carved my favorite sentence from the book into my arm with a ballpoint pen and went over the letters every morning with fresh ink so they wouldn’t fade.
“We lose weeks like buttons, like pencils.”
This was the most beautiful sentence I had ever encountered, for some reason.
So here’s the deal. After Eggers’ parents died, he became the caretaker of his younger brother Toph at a time when he was still in the midst of a coming-of-age saga of his own. The dichotomy of being in his 20’s and having to provide for a dependent prove an introspective battleground for Eggers’ discussion of what it means to live for yourself and someone else simultaneously.
I read this book under my desk during chemistry class. I had to tell my teacher I was crying because organic molecules are just so beautiful, like I can’t even process how something so pure can exist in a world that created Cheez Whiz.
I guess that’s how I feel about Eggers too. I’m astounded by- I hate to make this pun, believe me- his staggering genius. There’s an honesty in his prose that’s unmatched by his contemporaries, drawing upon the morbid humour of David Foster Wallace and the Bandaid-ripping, curtain-opening revelations of Kafka. Eggers is all 90’s grunge feelings and post World War Two manic insecurity, wrapped up in a nice warm burrito shell of musings on final testaments and adolescent libido.
This book makes me feel less alone. I hope it can provide you some semblance of the same comfort. Maybe a laugh or three.
The title alone, bleeding a sarcastic self-assurance that you’ll discover upon opening the pages is a mask for some raw insights on the nature of all of us, is worth the buy.
“I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.”
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop