Monday, February 7, 2011

The chaplain CBR-III Review #1- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers


            As a liberal college freshman from the Midwest who thinks she’s got pretty cool taste, it was unsurprisingly easy to relate to the emotions of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  I have not ever experienced a tragedy even remotely as painful as that of Dave Eggers, a college student whose parents died a month apart from cancer and was left to raise his 8 year-old brother, yet I found the story so real and the sentiments so genuine that this was of no consequence.  I’m aware some readers have dismissed this memoir on account of the many gimmicks and its hipster-vibe, but I found them (mostly) charming and the story underneath was so compelling that I believe it worth any readers time.
            As an 18 year-old the idea of having to raise a sibling upon the death of my parents is unimaginable, and I imagine by the time I’m 21 (the age Eggers was) this will not have changed much.  The life that Eggers and his younger brother Toph have had is interesting enough to me to make worthwhile reading, and is improved so by the fact that Eggers is such a fascinating storyteller.  Eggers uses a variety of devices (especially repetition) to convey his past or thoughts at any given time, and is extremely self-aware in discussing the themes and his attempts to lighten his grief through its dispersion as a story.  One reason this memoir is so easy to relate to is his conversational writing style, rambling as one might while talking.  And as well as the emotional power this story possess’, Eggers is funny.  Somehow he managed to make the everyday interactions of a twenty something and his brother riveting, I found myself engrossed in his descriptions of their eating habits, arguments about his brothers clothes, and Frisbee playing talent. 
            A more world-weary person may have not found the story so affecting, but even through Eggers humor I felt the sadness and tragedy of his life pumping through every anecdote.  I could understand exactly how Eggers felt as he and his friends poured their pure hopes for the future into their hipster magazine Might, I’ve probably had countless thoughts or conversations like the one below:
“’It’s going to be huge—we’ll have a big house somewhere, or a loft, and there’ll be an art gallery, and maybe a dorm—‘
‘Right.  A Collective’
‘A movement.’
‘An army.’
‘All-inclusive.’
‘Raceless.’
‘Genderless.’
‘Youth.’
‘Strength.’
‘Potential.’
‘Rebirth.’”
Which is ultimately what broke my heart about Eggers story.  He was the kind of person I’ve wanted to be.  He was young and trying to get along without messing up his brother too bad and like lots of us, trying to be important and creative and do important and creative things.  He did things like run naked on a beach for some photos, and paint Wolverine over his little brothers bed to protect him.  He declares himself “an orphan of America” and “bursting with the hopes of a generation”. I think that after putting all this into his book, Eggers was able to achieve something important and creative, at least for me.