Dave Eggers: A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius

“Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: Let’s not forget this.” – Dave Eggers


I have been compelled to read this by many over the years and I can finally say I have. I’ve tried before but have ended up setting it down after the first few chapters but I don’t mean this to be any reflection on the book itself, merely my own interest at the time.


It’s a memoir. After losing both of his parents to cancer in the space of a month, Eggers is forced to deal with this alongside the new and daunting aspect of being the guardian for his 7 year old brother, Toph.

One concept I really enjoy about this book is that it is essentially about some twenty year olds who don’t seem to have much going on. Apart from his parent’s death and raising his brother, nothing really stands out for me, which at times can make it drag a little. However, I don’t know if this is my own ignorance to genius or just one of those things. For example, Eggers starts his own magazine and interviews for a MTV show – I find myself inadvertently skipping past these chapters not finding them particularly interesting. I digress; back to my original point I enjoy the fact that Eggers has made a novel out of this. Imagine thinking this idea up yourself. His parents’ die of cancer, he looks after brother…then what? That is essentially what it is but I like this – It gives me reassurance that you can write the ordinary.

The most engaging aspect of the novel is his relationship with his little brother, Toph. As guardian, he is weighted with all these expectations and pressures, some of which he completely ignores (like getting his brother to school on time). We see points of him attempting to be a better guardian and his newfound authority is not taken seriously by Toph. There are also snippets of extreme paranoia by Eggers when he leaves Toph with a babysitter involving murder and paedophilia which you can sympathise with but also laugh about.

The final thing I enjoy about this book is the ending where he finally addresses the feelings towards his dead mother, using internal debates to grab our attention. I love the anger, the inappropriate comments and throwing of the ashes (which fall on his jacket). These elements are again easy to sympathise with while being realistically and refreshingly awkward. You throw ash in the wind, it will blow back on you but the world is often too scared to address the awkwardness of life, which is what he does with the cancer.

I personally feel this book is overrated but it does have its merits. It is this mix of realistic awkwardness and the relationship with Top which make this an unforgettable read.


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