Dave Eggers' book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was one of those books that kept floating around in conversation. The title has a way of catching that sticky spot on your brain that doesn't fully retain information but doesn't entirely let it go, either. For awhile, I continuously confused this book with The Unbearable Lightness of Being -- for some reason, the titles sound the same to me. After reading the latter, I called my friend to ask her why she was such a fan of the book, and she fully began describing the former. Awesome.
So years, literally years, later, a friend of mine dropped A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius into my hands, saying, "I just finished it. Give it a go." Given its sticky-status, I thought I should finally just get the damn book out of my system already.
The premise: Dave and his brothers and sister survive the terrible loss of both of their parents to cancer in the space of about 5 weeks. One death was expected, the other was quite sudden. Suddenly, alongside dealing with the technicalities of their parents' deaths as well as their personal grief, Dave and his two older siblings find themselves legally responsible for their seven-year-old brother Toph. The majority of the child-rearing falls on Dave's 21-year-old shoulders, and this book is the autobiographical story of the two brothers' life together.
There were parts of this book that were absolutely riveting. I would call them the first 100 pages. And then the rest of the book was very, very longwinded. And this is coming from somebody who she herself is very long-winded, so just trust me when I say it's long-winded. 437 pages of long-winded (Note: In the preface, Eggers himself mentions that the best part of the book is in the first 100 pages, curiously enough).
Sure, it's heartbreaking. It is. I just don't know so much about the staggering genius part.
Still, there was something about this book that kept me reading. Well, ok, skimming. I brought it with me everywhere I went, and pulled it out whenever I had a 2-or-more-minute wait for a train/bus. I even looked forward to transporation time because it meant reading time, and hey! That must mean I liked the book, right?
Except I didn't, really. I found it sort of tiresome. And I'm apparently in the minority here, because the book was a #1 bestseller. But so was A Million Little Pieces, and I found that book tiring in the exact same way, although Eggers is clearly a more talented writer than James Frey.
If you're curious, I copied one sentence out of the book for illustrative purposes. It's about Dave and Toph "meeting" President Clinton:
Do you see what I mean? About the tiresomeness? And the I-could-skim-this-ness?
But, if you're still confusing the book with The Unbearable Lightness of Being maybe you should buy it anyway: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Or, maybe you should read it again if you're one of the other millions and millions of people who have bought this book and enjoyed it.