Autumn reading #1: A…

Autumn reading #1: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

Okay, so I started reading this in the summer, but I just finished it now, so it counts as autumn reading. I'm going to start doing these book reports again because they worked pretty well for keeping me actually reading this summer, and given that September disappeared in a haze of job work and that now all the tv shows are back on (or almost all), it'd be easy not to read book for months on end and I don't want to do that, so, book reports.

I have mixed feelings about this Pulitzer Prize finalist of a book. My biggest problem is that I don't tend to find hipster stuff funny. A lot of the book focuses on Might magazine, and I've never read the magazine, but from what's in here, it sounds pretty far from anything I might like. Now, Eggers is doing McSweeney's now, and I do like that fairly often, so maybe he just badly represents Might? I'm not sure. But I have little patience for irony, and it seems like it was mostly about that. I am generally more on the tragically sincere end of things myself.

That said, the rest of the memoir, about the death of his parents and his raising of his younger brother, was quite good, I thought. It all falls apart partway through, which is sort of hard to read -- he mostly gives up on narrative propulsion, and even though that's clearly a deliberate choice (he warns you about it in the beginning), it still has its expected effect; it becomes really easy to put the book down, which is why I started it in the summer, read the first half in a day or two, and finally picked it up and finished it this week. Metafictional techniques are all well and good, and the author is clearly very clever, but mess with narrative propulsion at your peril. If you don't give the reader a reason to keep turning pages, they may just stop.

But by the end, I was feeling quite sad for this poor guy, who is clearly just totally losing it, after trying very hard for a long time to keep it together, in part for his little brother's sake. That sincerity is what redeems all the (sometimes misplaced) cleverness. It's a good book, and gives you the experience of grief and loss that undoes you. I'm glad I read it.

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