A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

This month, I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. As I got farther into the book, I started feeling that it’s a very sarcastic title. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting and gripped me almost immediately. However, I don’t know that I would recommend this book to others.

I looked into the book a bit when I first started reading it, and it is a memoir/true story type of book. The things in the book kind of actually happened. You’ll see the reason for the “kind of” in a bit. There may have been some name changes as well.

The Layout

The book is written in a bit of stream of consciousness. I love this style of writing. It has a way of making the story/characters even more accessible. For example, A Million Little Pieces was one of my favorite books! It pretty much broke my heart when the scandal came out about it not really being a true story. However, Eggers stream of consciousness is…I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s crude and extremely vulgar at times. At one point, he was writing a chapter like an interview he had (maybe?) for MTV’s Real World, and it turns out that it wasn’t really how the interview went.

A.H.W.O.S.G. – Pages 196-177

So tell me something: This isn’t really a transcript of the interview, is it?


It’s not much like the actual interview at all, is it?

Not that much, no.

This is a device, this interview style. Manufactured and fake.

It is.

It’s a good device, though. Kind of a catchall for a bunch of anecdotes that would be too awkward to force together otherwise.


Why? Why share those anecdotes then?! On occasion, there are paragraphs of run-on sentences with nothing but profanities.

Here’s a lovely contrast of what pulled me in and what bothered me, from the first and last pages of the book.

Page 1:

Through the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic. Exhaust from the dryer billows out of the house and up, breaking apart while tumbling into the white sky.

Page 437:

What the f*ck does it take to show you motherf*ckers, what does it f*cking take what do you want how much do you want because I am willing and I’ll stand before before you and I’ll raise my arms and give you my chest and throat and wait, and I’ve been so old for so long, for you, for you, I want it fast and right through me— Oh do it, do it, you motherf*ckers, do it do it you f*ckers finally, finally, finally.

What Irked Me

I can get past the profanities generally. I understand that these were Eggers’ genuine feelings. Goodness only knows what happens in my head when I’m frustrated or angry. HOWEVER, there was a point in which he wrote about feeling owed because he and his siblings lost their parents within a month of each other. Yes, that is a terribly tragic story, but no one owes you anything. That’s the downfall of people. It’s those who think they’re owed things that end up so much more harsh and aggressive than they should be. Work for what you want! Take your terribly tragic story and start a foundation or support group for people who have gone through something similar.

At one point, Dave made up a story about how his little brother took a gun to school because he was sick of people asking about his brother. Really? You made up a story like that?

Also, it didn’t feel consistent! At one point, he’s talking about how he and his friends would always forget that his brother was younger than all of them (Eggers & friends were in their 20s, and Toph was 10 or 11). On one page, they mentioned the brother was in 7th grade, and a couple of pages later, they said he was 11. Umm…I’m pretty sure that the school system since the 60s has put 11 year olds in 5th/6th grade.

They (Dave & his younger brother) have a joke that consists of

“Your hat smells like urine.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes it does. Smell it.”

Is that magically funny somewhere? People with younger brothers, is this how you joke around?

Olivia was not amused.

Final Thoughts

This book gripped me very quickly in the first chapter. It started with this tragic back and forth about the death of both of his parents so close together. I had very high hopes for this book. I mean, look at the title! It was also a Pulitzer finalist. It was fairly simple to read quickly, and moved. You can also skip full paragraphs and not lose anything from the story.

If you’re looking for a different book that you’ll probably find interesting, I would put this on your list. Is this a book that you really enjoy and keep on your bookshelf to read later? Probably not. Give A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a try. Maybe you can explain some of it to me.

Check out my other book reviews here. Interested in submitting a book for my review? Let me know here.

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