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A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggers

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS

By Dave Eggers

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-86347-2
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

It isn’t—but it’s better than most novel-like objects created by our younger writers, and like them, this one is directly

autobiographical, ironic, and self-referential, concluding with a tiny gesture of hope the author no doubt considers brave given

the vicissitudes he’s retailed in prose.

It is a potpourri of young gestures: David Wallace’s intricate cataloguing of smart trivia; Rick Moody’s detached, incisive

portraiture of white suburban America; Bret Ellis’s seen-it-all spiritual fatigue; and a dollop of Michael Chabon’s candy-coated,

hope-flavored insight. After a relentless preface and introduction (in which readers are instructed they could profitably read only

the first 109 pages, "a nice length, a nice novella sort of length"), Eggers duly produces his imagination’s ripe fruit: the death

of both parents, by cancer, a month apart, when he was in his 20s. With younger brother Toph in tow, Eggers takes flight to San

Francisco, moves about, discovers mild poverty, and tries out for MTV’s popular "The Real World." His unsuccessful interview,

reprinted here, discloses a hard shell of pre-emptive irony, intended, no doubt, to deflect authentic emotions and qualify him for

the show. (Eggers doesn’t believe in dignity or privacy, for starters.) He doesn’t make it, but his unsated desire to demonstrate

his grief/rage/detachment leads him, with friends, to found Might magazine, which has a modestly successful run. Might’s staging

of the death of Adam Rich (Nicholas from Eight Is Enough) is briefly amusing, but only Toph shares Eggers’s pleasure in

mocking celebrities while appearing to valorize them, and as this self-approving account concludes, a frisbee game with the wise

kid results in a pure moment of grace, curiously intertwined with a crucifixion-martyr motif, in which Eggers is the suffering

truth-teller.

It is evidently hard to have been Eggers, though few readers will be satisfied with this nugget of hard-won wisdom in return

for their investment of time and good will. (Author tour)