Friday, March 4, 2011

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Yes, it's a novel. I feel I have to put my foot down very strongly on that point because, if I get into a reasoned debate with someone over whether or not it constitutes a "novel", I'll probably lose. So let it be said that Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a novel, and will remain a novel for the remainder of this post.

This novel (said with unnecessary emphasis) appeared in bookstores when I was in college, and I remembered it due to that title. For the next decade, I did not read it. I did remember Dave Eggers' name, although for some reason I often got him confused with David Sedaris. Eventually I read his (Eggers', not Sedaris') brilliant The Wild Things, saw him on, and finally read the novel that made him famous.

In The Wild Things, Eggers showed his brilliance at capturing being a rambunctious young boy. (I wasn't all that rambunctious when I was a kid, but Eggers' portrayal had enough verisimilitude for me.) In AHWoSG, the book that made him famous, Eggers brilliantly captures being a financially strapped bright 20-something in a mid-1990s San Francisco that I never experienced, but is so cool that I can only regard it as a legendary place. (How cool and legendary is Eggers' mid-1990s Bay Area? Eggers name-drops Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing long before Frauenfelder or Boing Boing became nationally known. That's how cool and legendary.)

Of course, the novel isn't about the Bay Area of fifteen years ago; it's about how Eggers is thrust into the responsibilities of adulthood on one hand as he becomes his rambunctious little brother's de facto if not de jure guardian, while on the other hand doing his best to live the life of a not-quite straight-laced twentysomething (I am trying hard not to use the word "hipster"). Eggers delves deep into his own character, while creatively departing from the strict historical record just often enough that I don't feel dishonest in calling the book a novel. Novel novel novel!

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