So, this is my life.

And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I thought it reeked!"

it's been a long time coming, but my review of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is finally ready.

here it is: IT SUCKED! (as 'The Critic' would say).

that said, i'd still encourage you to read it. though i'm not quite sure WHY...

i could've written this review months ago, after finishing this heavy, dark, bipolar novel, but i wasn't inspired to do so until i read Dan Savage's review of the book. Savage is, after all, one of my favorite columnists and has been ever since my early days in Pittsburgh, when i used to scour the weekly city paper for his dirty sex column.

here's a snippet (what a faggy word! ha! snippet!) of Savage's review of AHWOSG:

Brotherly love

Dave Eggers' memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," has charms to break the Savage heart.

This book review contains a little information about the book being reviewed -- a short account of its contents -- but it should not be construed as a serious comment on the qualities of the book under review. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to advise Salon readers to disregard this book review for several reasons. First, I am totally unqualified to review Dave Eggers' new book, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," or any other book. I would also, then, like to take this opportunity to apologize in advance to Mr. Eggers, the author of a very fine new book, should I make a mess of this review, as I expect I will and fear I already have...

Not, of course, that my opinions matter much at this stage; I have no illusions. In no way can this review harm Mr. Eggers, something that I, as a fellow writer, instinctively wish to do. The New York Times' Michiko "She Won't Like It, She Hates Everything" Kakutani loved Mr. Eggers' very fine new book, calling it a "virtuosic piece of writing" and Mr. Eggers "staggeringly talented..." The Wall Street Journal also heaped praise on Mr. Eggers' very fine new book in Weekend Journal, an arts, living and real estate section recently added to that publication. (Friday's Wall Street Journal is now a must-read among the film-going, book-reading, estate-buying set.)


Mr. Eggers does not write of his tragedy -- and there is no other word for it -- as if it were the most horrific thing that has ever happened to a person. As Mr. Eggers states in his acknowledgments, "he is not the only person to ever lose his parents, and ... he is not the only person ever to lose his parents and inherit a youngster. But he would like to point out that he is currently the only such person with a book contract." (Mr. Eggers also includes one of my favorite lines from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" in his acknowledgments: "To lose one parent may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.") We live on a blood- and tragedy-drenched planet, and while the plight of the Eggers family is heartbreaking, worse fates have befallen other families.


Mr. Eggers' parents died at home, surrounded by their helpless, anguished children, attended by nurses, while painkilling drugs dripped into their I.V.s. Here in Oprah-land, we like to pretend that pain is equal, that no one suffers more than the next person. That is not true, as Mr. Eggers admits. His parents died too soon, they died painful deaths, but they weren't hacked to death in front of their children by their machete-wielding next-door neighbors.


The general thrust of Mr. Eggers' very fine new book, besides fate's maddeningly random cruelties, is how Mr. Eggers and other media-savvy, well-educated young people make their way in the world: They fake it. By holding the roles fate forces them to play (parent, wage earner, MTV "Real World" cast member) at arm's length, Mr. Eggers and his contemporaries mock and inhabit their lives at the same time, living compromised lives like everyone else, but paradoxically on their own terms. We root for Mr. Eggers as he reinvents the role of parent in "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." But like the dads we wish we had, and like the dads we all long to be (and can't be), Mr. Eggers' dual roles as sibling and father figure allow him to alternately play dad and best friend, wearing both roles lightly...

That Mr. Eggers can keep his sense of irony alive while his parents are dying and then continue to keep it alive once he has stepped into the normally irony-free roles of parent, breadwinner and provider is no small achievement. Mr. Eggers knows that parenthood is a joke the universe has played on him, but he manages to pull off an amazing double-cross, turning parenthood into a joke that he's playing on the universe (or, at the very least, on Simon & Schuster).


What's most amazing about Mr. Eggers' very fine new book, what staggers the reader and justifies the book's title, cover art and position on the New York Times bestseller list, is how thoroughly Mr. Eggers' self-deprecating tone and narrative tricks suck the reader in. Mr. Eggers allows us to remain as wary of cheap sentiment as he himself clearly is, paying us the compliment of not presuming we'll weep on cue, like Oprah's studio audience. Mr. Eggers doesn't rely on the facts of his family tragedy or on his readers' too-often-taken-for-granted empathy. He dares to entertain us, and then, once we've let our guard down, his very fine new book breaks our motherfucking hearts.


In fact, I challenge anyone to read even the first chapter of Mr. Eggers' very fine new book and remain unmoved. As I lay in bed with my boyfriend one night, while he read about Rwanda and I read Mr. Eggers' hilariously horrifying account of his mother's death, I became so upset I had no choice but to take another Xanax and go watch "Letterman."

i disagree with almost every complimentary comment made by Savage. i wasn't moved, and we all know i have a VERY warm, compassionate heart.

there was something about Eggers' style... the potentially beautiful and heartwarming relationship between Eggers and his brother/son was reduced to a train-of-thought, manic-depressive mumble, in the mind of this reader.

you can read the rest of DS's review here, if you like. don't waste your time, though. i gave you all the good parts.

and, again, i don't know why i'm saying this, but you should read the book. borrow mine, if you don't want to spend the $15 (totally over-priced at urban outfitters, if you axe me). i have a feeling that, even though i didn't appreciate it, YOU MIGHT.

weird, huh?

and if you HAVE read it, i'd like to know what you think. because maybe i just... didn't get it.


Taylor said...

Noo! This is one of my favorite books ever. The "why" of that is long and complicated and probably best explained in an in-person conversation. But the gist is that I think it's one of the most honest pieces of writing I've ever read. It is such an accurate snapshot, on every level, of the pysche of a twenty-something as he goes through his shit. Sometimes he's selfish and sarcastic and flip, but that's part of the realism.

Plus, it made me laugh. A lot. :)

that guy said...

i KNOW, tay!

i wanted to love the book, i really did.

it had real potential, and the story is heartbreaking, even moreso considering it's TRUE.

but i guess i wanted more, or i wanted him to take better care of Toph, or i wanted a big happy ending.

btw, i'm going to call you TAY from now on, because The Rachel Zoe Project made it cool.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Dan Savage's review is meant to be sarcastic.