Looking Back at ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’
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In this week’s issue, Idra Novey reviews Dave Eggers’s “The Parade.” In 2000, Michiko Kakutani wrote in The Times about Eggers’s first book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”
Dave Eggers’s new book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” is part autobiography, part postmodern collage, a novelistic “memoir-y kind of thing” that tells the sad, awful, tragic story of how the author’s mother and father died within weeks of each other and how he became a surrogate parent to his 8-year-old brother, and tells it with such style and hyperventilated, self-conscious energy, such coy, Lettermanesque shtick and such genuine, heartfelt emotion, that the story is at once funny, tender, annoying and, yes, heartbreaking — an epic, in the end, not of woe, though there’s plenty of that too, but an epic about family and how families fracture and fragment and somehow, through all the tumult and upset, manage to endure.
It’s the sort of book David Foster Wallace, Frank McCourt and Tom Wolfe might have written together if Mr. Wallace had never heard of Thomas Pynchon, if Mr. McCourt didn’t grow up poor in Ireland but middle-class in the suburbs of Chicago, if Tom Wolfe weren’t the sort of writer who wears white suits and ice-cream-colored shirts but were a 20-something slacker with a taste for shorts and T-shirts and lots of postmodern pyrotechnics.
“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” may start off sounding like one of those coy, solipsistic exercises that put everything in little ironic quote marks, but it quickly becomes a virtuosic piece of writing, a big, daring, manic-depressive stew of a book that noisily announces the debut of a talented — yes, staggeringly talented new writer.
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