Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book 23: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I'm sure you've all heard of this book by now if you're a Pajiban. It's been mentioned many times on the site. It's got one hell of a title, and it lives up to it.

AHWOSG (yeah, I'm not typing the whole thing repeatedly) is Dave Eggers sprawling memoir that details his young adult life. While he is in college, both of his parents die within 6 months of each other, leaving him and his older brother Bill and older sister Beth to take care of their younger-by-10-years brother, Christopher (Topher for short). Dave ends up chosen as Topher's caretaker, so they move to CA and he attempts to balance his new found role as "parent" (of sorts) with starting a magazine (Might Magazine) with his friends.

That's a basic, nutshell description of the book. But Eggers is not one for simple, linear storytelling. His writing is full of starts and stops, of disconnected and yet overarching ideas about his life, what it means to be family, what it means to DO something with your life, what his parents' deaths meant for him and his family, and so on and so forth. The foreward, intro, Rules & Suggestions, whatever you want to call it, itself is about 30 pages long. Eggers also uses different framing devices such as an interview to tell his story.

The phrase "voice of a generation" has been bandied about in reference to Eggers, and it's not hard to see why. First of all, he talks of a vision of people forming a "lattice" of support, all connected, as "one body," and says things like, "I am bursting with the hopes of a generation, their hopes surge through me, threaten to burst my heartened heart!" and "[Oh], let me be the strong-beating heart that brings blood to everyone!" These grandiose statements about being one with others and wanting to support them, to show them that they are connected, and to show that all their pain and loss was not for naught but for a purpose... well, it's easy to relate to such thoughts. And secondly, Eggers stream of consciousness style of writing sounds like the voice in my own head. He interrupts himself repeatedly, sometimes in mid-thought, sometimes in mid-sentence, and is so sarcastic, bombastic, and honest, I identify with him. I may not have gone through the tragedy he's experienced, but I can empathize with his feelings of fear, of excitement, and of wanting to turn his life into something worthwhile.

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