A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Review
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It was the “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book” that got me. I mean, I’d been fully intending to leave the bookstore—for once—without buying anything. But then I opened the cover of AHWOSG (as the author lovingly abbreviates it) and read the first rule, which starts: “There is no overwhelming need to read the preface. Really. It exists mostly for the author, and those who, after finishing the rest of the book, have for some reason found themselves with nothing else to read. If you have already read the preface, and wish you had not, we apologize…”

Having read that beginning, I knew I had to buy the book. This was my kind of humor: dry, quirky, intelligent, and overly analytical. The kind of Monty-Python-esque humor I could relate
to. I guessed immediately that I would enjoy this one.

And I did enjoy the book. True, there’s a bit less humor after the 45 pages (that’s right, 45 pages) of front matter: the “Rules,” then the preface (in which, much like a bonus feature on a DVD, the author actually includes edited-out paragraphs), and the acknowledgements (in which the author acknowledges, among other things, how much he was paid for the book and that he never finished college). But the 437 pages of the actual memoir are definitely worth reading as well. As the author explains in the front matter, the story is endlessly self-conscious and a little uneven, but it’s also lyrical, fresh, and smart. And, well, it’s a bit staggering and heartbreaking, too.

Eggers (who founded the journal McSweeney’s), tells his story, which is that of a young man whose parents died of cancer when he was 21 and thereafter—with some help from his older brother and sister—moved from Chicago to San Francisco and raised his 8-year-old brother while founding a magazine and trying to get on MTV’s The Real World. The story is interesting, but the mode of telling it is the greater attraction.

The book is quite confessional. The author certainly tells his thoughts and feelings, from grief to humor, anger to release and guilt, in a refreshingly, sometimes shockingly, honest fashion. The author gets away with his grandiosity by being simultaneously self-deprecating. He knows just what his limitations are—he tells you about them, actually—and then he stops just on the brink of pushing them too far.

This memoir has become my new “make-everyone-I-know-that-wouldn’t-be-offended-by-some-profanity-read-this” book. I’m glad I didn’t leave the bookstore empty-handed.

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