Lately, I’ve been finding solace in rereading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Written to be read like a novel, Eggers’s genre-splicing memoir follows him through becoming a parent by proxy to his eight-year-old brother after the sudden losses of both parents.
What’s so enduring about this book is how, on the surface, Eggers embodies the pessimism and acid-reflux-irony of postmodernism, but he swiftly and frequently undercuts his own nihilism by exalting the constructive power of familial bonds and solidarity between characters—or, real people. Character-ish people. The narrative style itself draws on the ironic, self-aggrandizing voices of writers like David Foster Wallace, sharing the same undercurrent of desire to locate and create meaning in the seemingly vapid and obscene.
Eggers’s competing aspirations to distinguish himself from others and assimilate into something greater than himself makes his journey both intense and darkly humorous, but Eggers’s often last-minute refusals to abandon the silver-lining, his enduring sentimentality amid existential and physical destitution, never fail to lead you back out into the sun.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Vintage, February 2001.
Reviewer bio: Kelsey Owen is an editorial assistant at Under the Gum Tree.
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