"And when this book is not winning, attached to it are labels: 'Post' this, or 'meta' that. Oh gosh. Where to start? These are the sort of prefixes used by those without opinions." (34)
So äußerst sich Eggers in dem Nachwort mit der Überschrift "Mistake we knew we were making" über die Vorliebe der heutigen Zeit, alles und jeden in bestimmte Kategorien zu packen. Er bittet die Leser seiner Biographie sich von diesen "meaningless stickers" (ibid.) zu verabschieden und stattdessen: "People, Friends, Please: Trust your Eyes, Trust your Ears, Trust your Art." (ibid.) Es ist dies ein Aufruf an die Leserschaft seiner Lebensgeschichte, sich von eventuellen theoretischen Vorbelastungen frei zu machen und "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" einfach umittelbar auf sich wirken zu lassen. denn: "everyone who actually reads this book, or any book, will understand it." (ibid.)
In A.H.W.O.S.G. beschreibt Dave Eggers den Krebstod seiner beiden Eltern innerhalb von nur 32 Tagen. Er ist zu diesem Zeitpunkt 21 Jahre alt und nun in der Situation, Ersatzvater für seinen neunjährigen Bruder Toph zu sein. Wie er in den kommenden sieben Jahre sein Leben lebt, welche Schwierigkeiten und absurde Situationen ihm begnegen und nicht zuletzt wie er sich bemüht seine eigene Trauer zu überwinden und gleichzeitig versucht, seinem Bruder eine halbwegs "normale" Kindheit zu ermöglichen, ist Thema von Eggers Biographie.
Dabei schafft er, was vor ihm nur wenigen gelungen ist. Deutlich spürt der Leser die Wut, die Trauer, den Hass und die Verzweiflung des Erzählers und dennoch wirkt A.H.W.O.S.G. an keiner Stelle kitschig. An keiner Stelle kommt so etwas wie Selbstmitleid zum Vorschein. Es ist der offene, teils brutal ehrliche, Erfahrungsbericht eines jungen Menschen, der unverschuldet in eine Ausnahmesituation geraten ist, sich aber dennoch seine Liebe zum Leben bewahrt hat.
Auch wenn sich Eggers in seinem Nachwort gegenüber Kategorisierungen wie, zum Beispiel, "postmodern" verwahrt, spielt er im Verlaufe der gesamten Geschichte mit postmodernen Elementen. Zu Beginn gibt er dem Leser diverse Ratschläge, wie er das Buch zu lesen hat, welche Kapitel entscheidend seien und welche man ruhigen Gewissens überspringen könne. Es folgt ein Kapitel über die Hauptthemen und Motive seiner Biographie und zuletzt eine tabellarische Übersicht über die Bedeutung von einigen Symbolen und Metaphern (Sun=Mother; Nosebleed=Decay, zum Beispiel).
Auch während der Geschichte selbst erläutert Eggers immer wieder, warum er dies Ereignis jetzt so dargestellt hat, wie er es dargestellt hat und wie er es auch anders hätte präsentieren können. Für Freunde einer genauen Analyse drängt sich die Einordnung von A.H.W.O.S.G. unter den Oberbegriff postmodern also geradezu auf. Doch er zieht diese Elemente dermaßen durch den Kakao, dass es eigentlich recht schnell klar wird, was Eggers wirklich will und was er dann ja auch im Nachwort deutlich macht: er will die Wahrheit, seine Wahrheit, über sich, sein Leben und seinen Bruder vermitteln. Und diese Wahrheit sei für den Leser, der bereit ist zu verstehen, jenseits aller Kategoresierungswut, zu erreichen.
Fazit: Eggers gehört mir Jonathan Safran Foer zu der neuen Gilde junger amerikanischer Autoren, die uralte menschliche Themen wie Trauer, Leid und Tod auf eine neue, mitreißende Art bearbeiten: ohne Kitsch, ohne ständiges Tränenfließen, ohne Selbstmitleid, sondern, trotz aller Härten und Ungerechtigkeiten, mit einer immer spürbaren Liebe zum Leben.
am 2. Juni 2000
If ever I come across a book that defies convention, my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to read it. The problem with this tendency is that it usually leads me to a lot of bad books that I refuse to finish. Not this time. Dave Eggers' debut memoir is staggering in its style, innovations, and trials, and simply a lot of fun to read. For months I kept seeing this book eyeing me in bookstores, its corny cover displaying a red velvet drape opening across a Titian-like sky with the "egg" part of the author's name floating over the rising (setting?) sun. One day, I broke down and sent for it and began reading: (page before the title page) "This was uncalled for"; (page before the preface) "Rules and Suggestions for Reading this book: #1. There is no overwhelming need to read the preface...#3. You can skip the table of contents...#6. The book thereafter is uneven..." And then I noticed something: Eggers has written every word--the flap blurbs, the copyright page--and all of it is innovative and entertaining. The table of contents reads like a modern poem, and the 21 page acknowledgement section containing all kinds of slapsticky digressions and a key to the text's metaphors is hysterically funny. With all of the hype and presence this book has inspired, one can't help but read it. Eggers tells the true story of his parents' deaths five months apart which leaves Dave to raise his little brother Toph--the most intriguing character in the tome--and move to Berkeley, California. The best of the book is probably the truest stuff--the first few chapters wherein he discusses his family's losses and the beginning of the Berkeley section and incidental, everyday wonders like recipes he and Toph devise(such as The Saucy Beefeater and The Mexican-American War), frisbee exploits, the teddybear, the mother's lost ashes, nude photo shoots. In spite of his potential, he wanders away to his magazine exploits and some MTV goofiness and more, and it is here that the author's age starts to show-- which is why we must forgive him his lousy handling of the rest of his book. Hey! The guy is only in his twenties and he wrote and published a really innovative book full of literary tricks and flights of imagination. Even though, as the author admits in the beginning, the book just peters out toward the last third, Eggers seems bound for glory, so original, and so wise, really, for such a self-effacing clown. His heart is full of love, and he just can't hide it. That, in addition to his wit, make (almost)this (entire) book worth your while.
am 18. September 2000
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed his book. I think growing up in suburban Chicago, going to the University of Illinois, and being the same age really helped me to identify with his voice. I did not know him, nor do I think I would like to, but reading about his life was a trip. Yes, his tale is heartbreaking. And yes, he has his little made-for-tv moments of rising above it all. But his staggering genius lies in the way he captures the angst, ennui, and levity of life of a twenty-something in the 90's much in the same way as Douglas Coupland of Generation X fame.
The narrative of the book, though easy to read, can raise a few questions. It is easy to get caught up in his tale and as a result there are scenes that appear to be missing. Some of the periphery characters' stories do not carry themselves to completion or are resolved but we do not know how or why. This is where the staggering ego comes in.
There are scenes that are truly hilarious, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and scenes that are just plain embarrassing. I suppose that is the price you pay for making your life public. Something that he was mentally prepared to do when he tried out for MTV's Real World. The reader gets a glimpse of a young man forced to take care of his younger brother at 21, find a job, and find his own identity. An interesting journey.
Note: If you are must read the preface and acknowledgements, read them last. Everything makes a little more sense that way.
am 11. Juni 2000
Oh dear. This is a definite case of too much hype and not enough substance.
While Eggers comes accross as affable enough, he's also too annoyingly arch and egocentric, too aware of his youth and (so-called) beauty and indomitability to be a likeable hero. In a word - he's bigheaded and spends most of the book defending this as his fundamental right.
Some of the writing is good, and the first hundred pages are inspired. His account of his mother's decline and his father's fading away are moving and funny, and very real; if Eggers had maintained that mixture of humour and human appeal, then this would have been a great book. The rules for enjoying the book are clever, and his anarchic approach to how you actually go about starting a book is incredibly funny and refreshing. But as he warns, these are the only good bits - the rest of the book is very, very tedious.
We want to hear about how his brother does, but apart from brief snippets of info which give us clues as to how he is devloping in these unusual circumstances (the marvelous models of Jesus that he makes) Eggers seems to forget the premise of the book (Big brother looks after little brother after parents dies) and ignores Toph woefully to tell us at length about how great it is to be young and free in America. You get the feeling that Toph would have managed to write a much more interesting version of the story. We'd also like to read more about how Dave copes, his emotions and thoughts and feelings, but we just get more banality about his rather boring escapades in publishing and TV which really, I promise are merely the self interested outpourings of a kid who watched too much MTV and not even nearly as interesting as you'd expect.
After making myself finish the book, I felt cheated. I wasn't seriously expecting this to be a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but I did hope that there's be a little more heartbreak, or a little more genius in it than there actually is. Perhaps Eggers found it difficult or unnecessary to write at length about what it is to lose both parents and be left literally holding the baby. He shouldn't have to -there are plenty of other books out there telling painfully real stories of human suffering to make another one superfluous. However, what I really felt disappointed about was that this book promises the reader one thing, and then goes on to deliver something totally and disappointingly different.
am 2. Mai 2000
Dave Eggers breaks a lot of rules in this mostly wonderful book. From the inside front cover flap ("Removed from Chapter 5") through the hysterical transcript of his MTV "Real World" audition, to the Joycean stream-of-consciousness ending, he combines studied pretentiousness with true honor and feeling. It's not always pretty--in fact, it can be brutal, such as the opening description of his mother's horrible death that brought back the smells and agony of my own time sitting beside my father's deathbed. But Eggers has done the right thing--not just by his brother, which was truly important, but by his readers. From our ringside seat we see the chaos, self-loathing, pride, sheer terror, pure joy, and the other conflicting emotions in his life as a twentysomething orphan.
am 7. Juli 2000
Dave Eggers has the feel, but not the grip. Unfortunately, the good things about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (its title not being one of them; the book is neither heartbreaking nor staggering) are solely the result of the peculiar situation in which Mr. Eggers found himself--the custodian of a pre-teen sibling upon the untimely and nearly simultaneous deaths of both parents. The story is bound to be at least moderately interesting no matter who tells it, and no matter what style is employed.
On the matter of style, the author is entitled to polite applause at a minimum. He employs some mechanisms that we should expect to see copied by others, including dialogues that begin believably and cross the line into fantasy before the reader realizes where he or she is. For example, the author reports conversations with his little brother that wind up with the youngster philosophizing in a manner impossibly mature for his years--and the reader is left chuckling at being duped.
Cleverness, however, is not enough to salvage the book. This is a work of nonfiction, and it is an unabashed inspection--no, more of a awe-filled self-worship--of the author himself. Such a premise might be more acceptable if we were not talking about a man whose reaction upon leaving a hospital visit to a comatose friend is to attempt sex (seduce would be the wrong term--trust me on this) with a female friend with whom he makes the visit. Or a man who deems it necessary to advise us that he masturbates now once a day--claiming that he got a slow start in such matters as a result of his Catholic upbringing. (Note to the author: Whoa, there, big fella; you can slow down. You've probably pretty much caught up with the rest of the world.) You get the drift.
This is a slacker vomiting on the pages, interesting only because the vomited lunch contained some mildly exotic foods. My guess is we've seen all he has to secrete.
I gave this book my "great book test." I read all but the last 5 pages, and put it on the night table in order to see how long I could withstand the temptation. The answer is two months and counting.
Look for Mr. Eggers, who postures himself as an "indie," counter-culture type of guy, to sign a big movie deal with a Hollywood studio.
am 24. Juni 2000
"A" : A book. To begin with. Just a book. We'll get over it. A memoir (the author's parents died within 5 months of each other, of cancer). About how the author - Dave - had to raise his nine year old brother Toph (short for Christopher, pronounced - I think - like the first syllable in Tofu) alone.
"Heartbreaking" : Dave (you call him Dave, in your head, as you're reading - in the future we wont use surnames when we talk about great authors, it'll be Dave-this and Zadie-that)suggests you only read the first 109 pages. That's the good stuff, he says. He describes watching Gladiators while his cancerous couch-ridden mother has a nose bleed that wont stop. Reading about death is like eating off-sorbet (you eat a little to check, you look away, you eat a little more, is it off? I think it is, you eat a little more, you're not feeling so good). It is too much. The pages decay between your fingers. It is TOO much.
"Work" : You might think - even if the writing is as good as I'm going to tell you it is - that is not the kind of book I want to read. You may have read Rick Moody's (brilliant) book "Purple America" and had your fill of cancerous parents and dysfunctional post-nuclear families. You might have read "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (another great book) and think : I've done painful memoir. Sounds a little bit like hard work to me.
"Of" : Useful preposition. Used to link one idea with another. Interesting, if you juxtapose two things in a cool way. Take a book about death and surviving and make it funny, for example. Again, you might not think that is such a big deal (Woody Allen's been doing that for years).
"Staggering" : What makes the book so (I'm tempted to leave this space blank for your own superlative, like Lawrence Sterne : I figure it's either "bright", "clever", "enjoyable" or "good", "good" the way John Travolta might say it) is what he combines the heartbreak with. Brace yourself. It's a meta-text. I know. Metatextuality is old. He has let the reader know he is writing as book. He knows we know he knows. How clever. The thing about meta-books is they all abide by strict rules.
1. The author thinks he is clever (which means the author thinks he is cleverer than you, stand up David Foster Wallace to your shame). 2. The author has problems engaging with the reader (because let's face it, the jokes are there to leaven the seriousness, to appear engaging in the face of that which worries you). 3. The author is young and brilliant and sexy and with-it and rich and - all of the things you are not. Which you don't need to be told (especially with you having shelled out money on the thing in the first place).
Dave gets it just right, though. He's "Alfie" and John Cusack in "High Fidelity" and Ferris Bueller rolled into one. You like him. For all his faults. In the preface he offers to split part of his advance with the first 200 readers who contact him with proof of having read the book. He offers tips on how to read the book (skip the preface, skip everything after page 109). He tells you he hates memoirs. (He says, I'm not Irish and I'm not over seventy, I shouldn't be writing a memoir.)It's funny. Laugh out loud funny. Dave gives good gag.
"Genius" is a word that gets bandied about all too often these days. (We live in a world of "intelligent" football after all.) The thing is this. Unlike, say, Aleksander Hemon's book "The Question of Bruno" (which shows promise but was hugely overpraised - "he's the new Nabokov!", "the new Borges!", he's GOD!"), Eggers book is a great book. Great like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" is a great book. Not great as in large. Not great as in really good (although it is). Great as in likely to be remembered, likely to be read again, likely to be the start of a career you will follow. Genius, then.
am 19. Juni 2000
Eggers is definitely a very talented writer. I enjoyed the book up to the point where Eggers decides to hit me over the head a dozen times with the same thing. Repetition maybe a motif of the X-generation, but it doesn't have to be demonstrated so literally as Eggers has done. After all, readers aren't as stupid as we seem and a book isn't a pop song where we need a chorus. The most annoying thing about the book is Eggers' relentless ranting. True, he can rant rather cleverly, but eventually I get tired of hearing the same over and over. I like him the way I like my 5 y.o. nephew who is also a brilliant ranter: that is, I like him for ten minutes then I want to box his ears.
The book is brilliantly crafted. The author shows exactly what he wants to show and not a bit more (despite all the posturing). That is also to say he doesn't want to show much. He's like a magician. He gets you to focus on the right hand while he does something else with the left hand. I bought the book because I wanted to know more about the terrible tragedy that had befallen his family and the burden that he had taken with his younger brother. Granted I also would like to learn a bit about him as well. But after I read the book, I didn't learn a whole lot about his family or his little brother or his girlfriends. But I did enjoy the convolution (the first 40 or 50 pages) of his prose and his sheer audacity.
After I finished the book, I had a chance to hear him read. It was only then that I could confirm my suspicion. Eggers is a gifted writer, but he is far more the marketing genius and the consumate showman. The only disappointing thing is that--like most showman--he delivers less than he promises.
I like this book because it ventures in new direction (though not far enough). I like it because Eggers has the cojones to take the publishing-reviewing industries in and ride them for all they're worth.
For true brillance, read Angela Ashes by Frank McCourt (Pulitzer Winner). For emotional honestly and insights, read Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham (Kiriyama Winner).
am 15. Mai 2000
Reading this book, I felt like a teacher who receives an essay from a student who is obviously very gifted and intelligent, but still has to give him or her a "C" because they didn't follow the assignment well. Eggers is obviously a very good writer with great wit and creativity. However, after starting off strong, I found myself really struggling to get through the latter 2/3rds of the book. I know some will accuse me of being some kind of conformist slime for suggesting this, but I think that Eggers could have written a stronger work by focusing more specifically on the story of raising his younger brother after his parents death and less on a variety of different topics from his friends, his work, his love life, etc. Part of the problem is that none of Eggers friends are ever really described well enough to know one from the other (with the exception of one of two) so that a name could come up consistently throughout the book and I still didn't remember anything about him or her to differentiate from anyone else. That being the case, the latter 2/3rds of the book would probably be interesting if you actually knew these people personally and didn't need further description, however for those of us without this luxury, it was kind of like being on the outside of an inside joke.
I admired that Eggers could write about a topic as tragic as the death of his parents so close to one another without relying on cheap sentimentality. And Eggers has a terrific sense of humor that really comes across in his writing. I admired his writing skills enough that I look forward to reading more of his work in the future. However, I definitely wish I had taken the author's own advice on this book and quit after the first three or four chapters when the book started meandering in too many different directions.
am 12. April 2000
In "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" David Eggers exudes the confidence and free-spirit typical of a twenty-something, while at the same time conveying the sharp analytical insights and life-discoveries that are more likely to be imparted through the wisdom of an aged and experienced shaman. Eggers creates in his novel a self-contained literary universe that conveys the varied and complex emotions that stem from being a young, recently parentless, father-figure in the late twentieth century in America. In case we've lost sight of it, Eggers seems to be saying with the appropriate irony: quaint and curious life is! But life's strangeness, for all the pain it can and surely will cause, is also its most engaging quality in Eggers' world.
In a recent radio interview Eggers claimed that he had little training in literary studies or reading the so-called great works, and one can believe it after reading his first novel. Eggers is refreshingly unfettered by literary convention. He is seemingly not even aware of it. This rarely comes off as a quality in a writer, and of course no skilled writer can escape convention, but it is a rare gift take ownership of the conventions that one uses. This is precisely what liberates this novel, what makes it striking and unusual. For all the cinematic shifts, emotional turns, and comic digressions of this novel, Eggers is always in complete control of what he says and how he says it.
Eggers speaks what can only be interpreted as the truth by turning in his fingers the gem of his young life and examining all of its peculiar facets with a keen eye. His life story thus far is a rare gem indeed. But as strange and troubling as the events of his life are, they are not what hold the novel together and make it glimmer. What holds this book together is the remarkable gift Eggers has of making every facet seem strange and new. From the graphic descriptions of the complications of stomach cancer that lead to his mother's death; to the lyrical passages that vividly describe his (inflated) view of his own singing and athletic abilities; to his insights into his lack of parenting skills and those of his parents, Eggers never ceases to have something important to say. Remarkably, for all of its real-world importance, this novel never takes itself too seriously. There are no parables here. There is no rush to judgement on those that could so easily be damned; there is no moral to the story. With a flair that Whitman would be proud of, the story is all one needs to hear.
In one seemingly highly symbolic string of scenes the protagonist attempts to finally lay his mother to rest, but folly abounds. Life gets in the way of a proper burial, or, in this case, scattering. All the while his mother chastises him from inside his head for what he's certain is a botched job.
This is the story of a strange young life, closely and not-so-closely connected to other lives. Eggers constructs his life as it constructs him. We should all take note of the passing as well as David Eggers has. Let's hope he continues to challenge, inform, and entertain us for many years to come.