"I think this book is kind of malleable. I''ve never really wanted
to put it away and be done with it forever -- the second I first
''finished'' it, I wanted to dig back in and change everything
around. So I''m looking forward to getting back into the text, and
straightening and focusing and deleting. Most of all, I''m thrilled
that Vintage will be letting me include all the cool chase scenes,
previously censored." -- Dave Eggers
The literary sensation of the year, a book that redefines both
family and narrative for the twenty-first century. A
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
is the moving
memoir of a college senior who, in the space of five weeks, loses
both of his parents to cancer and inherits his seven-year-old
brother. Here is an exhilarating debut that manages to be
simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply
heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
instant classic that will be read in paperback for decades to
PAPERBACK EDITION -- 15% MORE STAGGERING - Eggers has written
15,000 additional words for the Vintage Canada edition, including
an entirely new appendix.
1. The material preceding the main text in this
book-called "front matter" in the publishing business-has been
entirely taken over by the author, including the usually very
official copyright page. Why might the publisher have allowed
Eggers to take this unconventional route? Why does Eggers work so
extensively at disrupting the formality of publication and his
status as an author?
2. On the copyright page we find the
statement, "This is a work of fiction"; and at the beginning of the
preface Eggers writes, "This is not, actually, a work of pure
nonfiction." What point is Eggers making by casting all these
doubts on the veracity of the book''s contents? In his discussion
about the current popularity of memoirs [pp. xxiÐxxiii], Eggers
admits that the book is a memoir but encourages his readers to
think of it as fiction. What is the difference, in a work of
literature, between fact and fiction, and does it matter?
3. In the remarkable acknowledgments section,
which is a brilliant critique and discussion of the book as a
whole, Eggers points out that "the success of a memoir . . . has a
lot to do with how appealing its narrator is" [p. xxvii]. What is
appealing about Eggers as a narrator?
4. Eggers notes that the first major theme of
the book is "The Unspoken Magic of Parental Disappearance" [p.
xxviii]. It is a psychological truism that most children
occasionally fantasize about being orphans, because parents often
stand in the way of their children''s desires. Along these lines,
Eggers admits that the loss of his parents is "accompanied by an
undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of
infinite possibility" [p. xxix]. Does he ever find a way to resolve
his conflicting emotions of grief and guilt?
5. If it is true, as Eggers points out, that he is not the first
person whose parents died or who was left with the care of a
sibling, what makes his story unique?
6. Eggers worries that because he is neither a woman nor a neat,
well-organized person [pp. 81, 99], people assume that he can''t
take care of Toph. Which aspects of Eggers'' parenting are most
admirable? Which are most comic? What are the benefits and
drawbacks of each aspect?
7. How do Eggers'' memories of his father compare to those about
his mother? To what degree are his feelings about his parents
resolved, or at least assuaged, through the act of writing this
8. Much of the central part of the book relates to the business
of launching and producing Might magazine. What does this
section reveal about the concerns, desires, and frustrations of
thoughtful, energetic twenty-somethings in contemporary
9. Eggers expresses ambivalence about having written this book
because he feels guilty about exploiting his family''s misfortune
and exposing a private matter to the public. Among the epigraphs
that Eggers considered, and then didn''t use, for the book are "Why
not just write what happened?" (R. Lowell) and "Ooh, look at me,
I''m Dave, I''m writing a book! With all my thoughts in it! La la
la!" (Christopher Eggers) [p. xvii]. How do these two epigraphs
crystallize the memoir writer''s dilemma?
10. Why does Eggers judge himself so harshly for returning to
the family''s old house in Lake Forest and for trying to retrieve
his mother''s ashes? Does the trip provide him and his story with a
sense of closure, or just the opposite? Is there a central
revelation to Eggers'' narrative, a strong sense of change or a
significant development? Or would you say, on the contrary, that
the book has the haphazardness and lack of structure that we find
in real life?
11. Eggers refers, half-jokingly, half-seriously, to himself and
Toph as "God''s tragic envoys" [p. 73]. Is it true, as Eggers
suggests, that tragic occurrences give those to whom they happen
the feeling of having been singled out for a special destiny? Is it
common among those who have suffered intensely to expect some sort
12. Recurring throughout the interview for
MTV''s The Real World [chapter VI] is the image of what Eggers
calls "the lattice." What does he mean by this, and does it amount
to a kind of spiritual belief on his part?