TBTW(s): A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
I’ve been working on this book for almost a month now (three weeks, actually), and I’ve finally given up. Thrown in the towel. Bid it adieu. I hate giving up on a book, because I feel like I’m letting someone down – myself? the author? the characters? my middle school lit teacher? Who knows. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t stopped reading a book partway through for months, years, maybe even forever. But this book is 437 pages long, and I am officially done at page 215. Page 215. I didn’t even make it halfway.
But the half I did read, I didn’t enjoy. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge a book by its title either. The reality is that this adage goes both ways. Sometimes boring titles and boring covers hide fascinating books within, and sometimes intriguing titles with interesting covers are actually incredibly boring.
That isn’t exactly what happens in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. The book isn’t boring. In fact, it is actually quite interesting. But the main character, Eggers himself (this is a memoir), is an angry young adult, filled with frustration and desires and confusion about the future. In many ways, it should be relatable to any young adult, anyone who had their parents stolen from them at a young age, anyone who dealt with not knowing what their future holds, anyone with a sibling, especially a younger brother. So pretty much anyone, including myself. After all, I am a young adult – almost exactly the age of the narrator. I have a younger brother, I have no idea what my future holds.
It started out with such promise. The introduction advises you to not read the preface, for there is “no overwhelming need,” as “it exists mostly for the author.” The preface itself is full of sarcasm, but in a manageable amount. It was written as a preface to this addition, written years after Eggers wrote the memoir itself, and written as the sassy Dave Eggers of today, not as the sassy 20-something year-old Dave Eggers. Perhaps, if the entire book was written this way, I would have loved it, and read it within a few days. Because the preface, about 20 pages long, kept me sitting at the breakfast counter with a half eaten piece of toast in front of me.
I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so, when there was a plot of sorts and our narrator’s frustrations with his father, his mother, their deaths, and his siblings were understandable. When it made sense, when he was taking the time he needed to figure stuff out. And yet, in much the same way I absolutely hated Holden Caulfield’s angst, I cannot stand Eggers’ continuous hatred of the world, his shallowness, or even his inability to clean up the dinner plates. He wants to set a better example for his younger brother Toph than his alcoholic father did, and that shouldn’t be hard. But I can’t help but feeling he is failing in that; instead he is a stereotypical immature 20-something year old man.
Even so, I can’t help but be impressed by the writing in this novel. I can see why it became a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Eggers, who wrote so incredibly in Zeitoun and What is the What? does it again. He embodies the voice of his narrator so well that it is easy to forget that he is capable of writing in other styles. I can’t fault him for that. In fact, the fact that I am so incredibly turned off to the book by the style of prose, and its incredible accuracy, is the only thing that kept me going through the book for 215 pages. I was impressed, and continually hoping that perhaps the logic would return, and he’d man up – so to speak – and move on. Find a job, finish his education, get his little brother to school on time for once. And maybe that happens in the second half of the book, but I’m not sticking around to find out.
If you liked Catcher in the Rye, you’re already one step closer to enjoying Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But to me, it was nothing special, and super frustrating.
In other news, I hit the library yesterday, and am already 110 pages into the next book, so keep an eye out for more book-related posts coming soon to a blog near you.