• Nicole King

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Happy #FlashbackFriday! A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is definitely an oldie but a goodie for me. It's been some time since I read Dave Eggers's memoir of tremendous loss, but it's truly unforgettable.




Imagine being 21 when your dad dies. Then less than two months later, your mom dies from cancer. Your older brother and sister are away at college, so it's up to you to become guardian to your younger brother. This happened to Dave Eggers, and his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is about how he managed to process his grief while also raising his younger brother.


Nothing about this situation sounds funny, yet Eggers's memoir is filled with dark humor as he tries to raise his brother Toph while continuing to grow up himself. In fact, the entire book contrasts. In one moment, Dave is praising himself for his suddenly acquired parenting skills while also worrying about the environment he has created for his brother. He is protective of Toph and would gladly sacrifice his life for him, but at the same time he grieves over the loss of frivolity that many 21 year olds have the luxury of experiencing. Despite - or perhaps in spite of - the unbelievable loss he has faced, and his constant worry over suddenly losing more loved ones, Eggers tells darkly humorous tales.


The books title is a hint at the self-aggrandizement that is largely present in the book. Eggers greatly exaggerated tales aren't there simply to impart humor into what could easily become a depressing read. Instead, they are a way for him to process his feelings. It's a way to process his grief for his parents, the guilt he feels for wanting to live like a typical 21 year old, the fear and anxiety of sudden loss. For someone who hasn't lost anyone close to them, let alone several close people in a short period of time, these tales may be off putting. But I read this book at a time when I too had experienced simultaneous losses, and I could relate to the flights of fancy your mind takes you on in order to protect you from debilitating grief.


I think this book would be enjoyable for anyone who prefers dark nonfiction, but I think this is a great book for anyone who is experiencing or wants to better understand grief. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a true example of what grief really looks like. It's not a steady state of depression, longing, and sadness. For many of us, it's a rollercoaster of manic emotions that swing from sadness to anger, depression to anxiety, loss to gratitude, and back again.


Rating: 5/5

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