Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


Dave Eggers (2000)

I’ll bet you’ve never read a book that begins on the copyright page and includes “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book.” This work of non-fiction takes the memoir genre that’s all too popular now (“I went through a horrible experience and lived to write about it!”) and turns it on its ear. Irreverent in tone and extremely readable, Eggers relates his life taking care of his younger brother in the years following the deaths of their parents.

They move from a Chicago suburb to San Francisco, where Eggers bands together with some college friends to start Might, a “hip to be un-hip” magazine for twenty-somethings. His attempt to win a spot on MTV’s Real World–San Francisco is great; he includes the “transcript” from the audition, and it becomes one of many devices that Eggers cleverly twists into a surreal illumination of his thoughts and feelings. Characters in his story tend to break the so-called “third wall” and talk back to the narrator/author, questioning how events really took place and scolding him for shamelessly using them to make certain points in his book.

On the surface, this is a very clever book, dark and funny at times; underneath, there are interesting, deeper thoughts and truths at play. I highly recommend Heartbreaking Work and, if your book club can stand a longer book, it would make for great discussion.

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