Friday, May 21, 2010

Road to Damascus

Well, I finally read Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It took me a very long time to get around to it, which I mostly attribute to the fact that he was so lionized by the time I heard of him that I got a bit turned off. I also didn't see how a memoir about his parents' tragic death and his consequent raising of his young brother could be different from, as he puts it in the intro wryly, all the other cultural products about tragic and tragically hip orphans, like Party of Five. (God, there's a dated reference.) Funnily enough, I've heard a lot about him over the years, because I was originally involved with the group that set up what turned out to be the Chicago chapter of 826, Eggers' writing/tutoring center that started in SF as 826 Valencia (here it's called 826CHI, I believe). But I never went back to the well.

I did, and it is good. If I had to pick a David Foster Wallace disciple, he might be the one I'd pick... but I see more of a straight line to Joyce, funnily enough, in the way that he plots and uses language. He's so dry and hilarious in describing his pathetic, ragtag parenting that it isn't in the least self-aggrandizing, and Toph, his brother, is perhaps the best character of all. The parenting sections hold up a lot better than his accounts of Might Magazine, which he was trying to start up at the same time, though those have their own kind of starving-artist humor. I really enjoyed the book all the way until the end, which I found kind of disastrous, but I guess when you're writing a Joycean memoir/novel and the final word "Yes" has already been taken, you end up miserably plumping for a tableau and the word "finally."

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