A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Paperback | February 13, 2001

byDave Eggers

not yet rated|write a review
"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 is an instant classic that will be read in paperback for decades to come.

PAPERBACK EDITION -- 15% MORE STAGGERING - Eggers has written 15,000 additional words for the Vintage Canada edition, including an entirely new appendix.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$16.90 online
$22.00 list price (save 23%)
Ships within 1-2 weeks
Ships free on orders over $25
Prices may vary. why?
Please call ahead to confirm inventory.

From Our Editors

Within five weeks, a college senior loses both his parents to cancer and is bequeathed his eight-year-old brother. Having finished college and moved to Berkeley, Calif., with his little brother, Toph, he tries to be a father. Despite the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning and bill-paying, he is still just a playful older brother. Un...

From the Publisher

"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...

Dave Eggers lives in San Francisco, California.

other books by Dave Eggers

The Circle
The Circle

Paperback|Apr 22 2014

$16.26 online$21.00list price(save 22%)
Heroes Of The Frontier
Heroes Of The Frontier

Hardcover|Jul 26 2016

$31.05 online$34.95list price(save 11%)
A Hologram For The King
A Hologram For The King

Paperback|Jun 4 2013

$15.88 online$21.00list price(save 24%)
see all books by Dave Eggers
Format:PaperbackDimensions:496 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.8 inPublished:February 13, 2001Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676973655

ISBN - 13:9780676973655

Look for similar items by category:

Customer Reviews of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quirky memoir that reads like fiction Dave Eggers’ truly heartbreaking memoir is a phenomenal read. This book provides monumental insight into the tumultuous life of twenty-something Eggers after he loses both of his parents to cancer, and is awarded with custody of his younger brother Toph. Blurring the lines of fiction and nonfiction, Eggers’ memoir authentically presents his experience of loss and growth, and what it means to be a human being in light of tragedy. This book is a must-read for anyone who's looking for a quirky biography and/or are between the ages of 20 and 29 (or just feel like they are). It seems a lot more serious than it actually is, so people who like a good laugh should give this book a shot as well.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Yes! Incredible writing. I found the preface and the MTV interview too forced, and that’s why I’d give this book a 4 rather than a 5. But most of the time the book’s self-consciousness works amazingly well. I’ve never disliked a character so much but kept reading – the style is that good.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun divergent memoir style Solid work. Enjoyable post modernist style. Amusingly self concerned depiction of middle class trauma. Worth a read. I reserve 5 stars for my very favourite books, so have only given this a 4. This is the first book of Eggers' that I've read, but I would happily read another after having read this.
Date published: 2014-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Must read! Now, I understand this book isn't for everyone. But I recommend everyone at least attempt to read it once. Get yourself familiar with this author. If this memoir isn't for you, pick up What is the What. You'll love Dave Eggers. This memoir is a tragic and hilarious piece of art. Yes, there absolutely are pages upon pages of nothingness. The "story" doesn't move foward at times. That's what makes the book unique, it's nothingness yet somethingness and it's immensely interesting and enjoyable. Above all, it's the funniest book you'll ever read. 
Date published: 2014-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In some cases, you can judge a book by its cover (or title) David Eggers emerges in this loosely autobiographical work as a force to be reckoned with. Rarely is a book as genuinely moving, while managing to be funny. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggaring Genius is the story of a young man (Eggers), who is forced to raise his younger brother with the passing of their mother. What results is a beautifully written account of the sorrows and joys that accompany him while he is thrust into adulthood. An absolutely marvelous read.
Date published: 2009-07-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Thumbs down It caught my attention in the beginning..but very quickly it was gone. Too much rambling on, and on, and on.. for a smooth and interesting read.
Date published: 2009-01-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Self Aware Tongue-in-Cheek Pretention To act like Eggers a moment I am going to toss around some vocabulary: This book is an exercise in glib solipsism, an ambuscade of poseurism, with a dash of audience participation. Here's a quote as an example, "The self-canonization disguised as self-destruction masquerading as self-aggrandizement disguised as self-flagellation as highest art form of all aspect." However, despite the hard work I had to invest to get into the meat of the book, it was still a pretty good time.
Date published: 2008-10-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 1.5/5 As someone who absolutely loves memoirs, I was very excited to read this book. The description sounded intriguing, and I had been told by quite a few people that it was a great read. It started off well ... the description of the author's life with his mother was so incredibly honest ... truly heartbreaking. Unfortunately, the story deteriorated rapidly from there. I felt very detached from what was being described. I found myself disliking Dave immensely ... I really didn't care about what happened to him. He spent pages describing the most pointless details of his life ... at times I was almost bored to tears. Dave Eggers is a lot of things ... but a genius he is NOT.
Date published: 2008-09-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What a Bore!!! This book is one of the most boring books I have ever read!!!!! I read through it as quickly as I could (skipping many pages). I would not recommend this book unless you have nothing else to do with your time!!!
Date published: 2008-05-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Aggrevating Not a complete waste ot time, but close to it. Sped read through the last 200 pages. Eggers' protagonist should get overhimself and move on.
Date published: 2008-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Jolting, uplifting, endearing A headlong rush of stream of thought that is compelling, contemporary and touching. Charming and exhausting at times, I enjoyed the ride.
Date published: 2008-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tough, but Worthy Read I found myself having trouble reading this book. It's not that I didn't want to, or that it's not written well... It's utterly exhausting. Dave Eggers writes it as if he were doing it in a rush... Like someone speaking so quickly you can almost see the words tumbling out of their mouth. When I read it, I find myself picking up that same pace. After about 20 pages, I'm tired of reading so quickly... and so much. Within a single paragraph, he crams a dozen or more ideas... and that paragraph can span more than a page. I liked it, despite not being born of his generation or having experienced San Francisco in any way. I've never even seen more than one or 2 episodes of Real World - although coincidentally enough, it was the season with Puck and Judd - but I keep reading. And the more I read, the more I'm torn between feeling utterly sorry for him, and agreeing wholeheartedly. He writes about random moments and anecdotes that I find myself saying "No kidding! I didn't think anyone else thought stuff like that." It is indeed heartbreaking... and too often have I had to stop reading in order to gain a breath of fresh air.
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Puts his other books into context I read You Shall Know our Velocity a couple of years ago, based on a recommendation from my brother. I could not, for the life of me, understand what he saw in that book. For some reason, I hung onto my copy. This past year I picked up Heartbreaking Work out of interest, as I love biographies and memoires. The book itself is a good read. You may wonder how a young man would have full memoires already, but indeed Eggers tells his story with humour and in a way that evokes empathy and new found respect for the author. I then went back and re-read You Shall Know our Velocity, and I loved it. Heartbreaking really set the stage for the others, and I have since found Eggers to be one of my favourite, most reliably high-quality, writers.
Date published: 2007-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Genius, But Certainly Delightful I find myself having trouble reading this book. It's not that I don't want to, or that it's not written well... It's utterly exhausting. Dave Eggers writes it as if he were doing it in a rush... Like someone speaking so quickly you can almost see the words tumbling out of their mouth. When I read it, I find myself picking up that same pace. After about 20 pages, I'm tired of reading so quickly... and so much. Within a single paragraph, he crams a dozen or more ideas... and that paragraph can span more than a page. I'm liking it, despite not being born of his generation or having experienced San Francisco in any way. I've never even seen more than one or 2 episodes of Real World - although coincidentally enough, it was the season with Puck and Judd - but I keep reading. And the more I read, the more I'm torn between feeling utterly sorry for him, and agreeing wholeheartedly. He writes about random moments and anecdotes that I find myself saying "No kidding! I didn't think anyone else thought stuff like that." It is heartbreaking... and too often have I had to stop reading in order to gain a breath of fresh air.
Date published: 2007-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. A true story about a nine year old boy, Toph, whose parents have just recently passed away from cancer. Toph's older brother Chris, is now the legal guardian. Chris does everything in his power to make sure Toph has a normal life. They sell the house and get a small apartment in the city. With the money left over, they pay for Toph's education at a private school. As Toph grows up, he becomes well adjusted to his surroundings.
Date published: 2006-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought I would die laughing He's hilarious. Some of the choices he makes are so outrageous that you have to laugh. This is a family favorite - a must read.
Date published: 2006-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Read Wow. I read this book in two nights, I couldn't put it down... it's fantastic... I think I need to read it two or three more times just to try and get as much of it as I can. Awesome imagery and flawless narrative. Rates up there with Jean Dominique Bauby, Salinger (Eggers reminds me of Salinger in writing style), and Mark Haddon... so good.
Date published: 2005-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Funniest. Book. Ever. (parents beware?) Definitely the funniest book I've ever read - I laughed out loud way too much. Eggers writes how you'd think and it makes for a very entertaining read. His writing style is definitely what made the book. One interesting thing to note is that after most of my friends and I recommended the book to our friends and relatives - as you do with such a work of staggering genius - we found a distinctly different take between parents and non-parents. I'm not sure why, but if you're a parent you might not enjoy this one as much.
Date published: 2005-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely talented I read this book back 5 years ago, and it is truly the best book I have ever read. I tell everyone to read this work of art. Dave Eggers is extremely talented. His writing is fast, smooth and easy to follow but also brilliant.Everyone that enjoys a good novel should experience the refreshing writing style of Dave Eggers.
Date published: 2005-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A treasure!!! Wonderfull! Laugh outloud funny. Engaging. Unique style and perspective. I seldom have time to pick up a book but a friend lent it to me and it stays with me. Had to purchase my own copy for a second read.
Date published: 2005-02-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Heartbreaking Indeed! I was immediately drawn to this book by its unique writing style and this was enough to keep me interested for the first few hundred pages. However, subsequently this novel became a tragic, sad, depressing novel that went no where fast and then had the nerve to end abruptly, affording no closure whatsoever. I am hesitant to recommend this book at all, as while the raw and emotive writing style is original, the novel itself is replete with self-loathing and lacking in event.
Date published: 2003-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astounding I'm generally a pretty jaded reader, but this book will stay with me always. It does an amazing job of breaking down pretensions and barriers to connect with the reader on the rawest level. Wonderful.
Date published: 2003-05-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nope! I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one who thought this book was just a bunch of non-interesting ramblings, and an expensive waste (poor trees). I hesitate to give it a rating as high as a 1.
Date published: 2003-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Amazing!!! I'm not much of a reader but I couldn't put this book down. Extremely well written and laugh outloud funny. A definite must read. It's filled with goodness.
Date published: 2002-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius! This book is the most amazing thing I have ever read. I read it last year but I have not seen it since I last finished it, because i keep lending it to people. Anyone who enjoys reading should pick up this book!
Date published: 2002-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Genius Probably the best book I've ever read, and I read at least 5 books a month. Eggers writes the same way I think, sporadic and unconventional, but easy enough to follow. I recommend everyone read this book, and then lend it to at least one other person to read.
Date published: 2002-01-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not My cup of Tea I must admit to being totally defeated by this book. I found myself skimming and asking myself "Why am I still reading this? The answer is "I paid good money for it!" Dave Eggers tells the story of raising his younger brother when both his parents die from cancer. Just when I thought he was getting to the meat of the story he'd be off on a tangent involving his strange circle of friends or his life as a 20 something genxer. I found this book to be a complete waste of time and money on my part.
Date published: 2001-05-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from NOT I did not find this to be heartbreaking or staggering genius (not even close to genius actually). Is it just me or is it someone's ramblings not interesting? Granted it's a sin that this family lost their parents so close together in such a way but I found him to be imature in his dealings with life and the responsibility towards his brother. This book is going to the Salvation Army for resale so that hopefully it can help someone's life in some way - although certainly not be reading it.
Date published: 2001-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An AMAZING Work ... I LOVE THIS BOOK! Reading it is like being inside the author's head, thinking his thoughts, feeling his feelings. I hope this is the first in a long line of books to come by Mr. Eggers.
Date published: 2001-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is REAL This is the kind of book that really opens your eyes. I have never read anything like it before. It's like Oprah meets the Rugged Reality of Real Life. And if you happen to be in your twenties (or close), it'll mean even more to you. An amazing and enjoyable book that you'll definately want to read again.
Date published: 2001-03-22

Extra Content

Read from the Book

OneThrough the small tall bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic. Exhaust from the dryer billows clumsily out from the house and up, breaking apart while tumbling into the white sky.The house is a factory.I put my pants back on and go back to my mother. I walk down the hall, past the laundry room, and into the family room. I close the door behind me, muffling the rumbling of the small shoes in the dryer, Toph's."Where were you?" my mother says."In the bathroom," I say."Hmph," she says."What?""For fifteen minutes?""It wasn't that long.""It was longer. Was something broken?""No.""Did you fall in?""No.""Were you playing with yourself?""I was cutting my hair.""You were contemplating your navel.""Right. Whatever.""Did you clean up?""Yeah."I had not cleaned up, had actually left hair everywhere, twisted brown doodles drawn in the sink, but knew that my mother would not find out. She could not get up to check.My mother is on the couch. At this point, she does not move from the couch. There was a time, until a few months ago, when she was still up and about, walking and driving, running errands. After that there was a period when she spent most of her time in her chair, the one next to the couch, occasionally doing things, going out, whatnot. Finally she moved to the couch, but even then, for a while at least, while spending most of her time on the couch, every night at 11 p.m. or so, she had made a point of making her way up the stairs, in her bare feet, still tanned brown in November, slow and careful on the green carpet, to my sister's old bedroom. She had been sleeping there for years--the room was pink, and clean, and the bed had a canopy, and long ago she resolved that she could no longer sleep with my father's coughing.But the last time she went upstairs was weeks ago. Now she is on the couch, not moving from the couch, reclining on the couch during the day and sleeping there at night, in her nightgown, with the TV on until dawn, a comforter over her, toe to neck. People know.While reclining on the couch most of the day and night, on her back, my mom turns her head to watch television and turns it back to spit up green fluid into a plastic receptacle. The plastic receptacle is new. For many weeks she had been spitting the green fluid into a towel, not the same towel, but a rotation of towels, one of which she would keep on her chest. But the towel on her chest, my sister Beth and I found after a short while, was not such a good place to spit the green fluid, because, as it turned out, the green fluid smelled awful, much more pungent an aroma than one might expect. (One expects some sort of odor, sure, but this.)And so the green fluid could not be left there, festering and then petrifying on the terry-cloth towels. (Because the green fluid hardened to a crust on the terry-cloth towels, they were almost impossible to clean. So the green-fluid towels were one-use only, and even if you used every corner of the towels, folding and turning, turning and folding, they would only last a few days each, and the supply was running short, even after we plundered the bathrooms, closets, the garage.) So finally Beth procured, and our mother began to spit the green fluid into, a small plastic container which looked makeshift, like a piece of an air-conditioning unit, but had been provided by the hospital and was as far as we knew designed for people who do a lot of spitting up of green fluid. It's a molded plastic receptacle, cream-colored, in the shape of a half-moon, which can be kept handy and spit into. It can be cupped around the mouth of a reclining person, just under the chin, in a way that allows the depositor of green bodily fluids to either raise one's head to spit directly into it, or to simply let the fluid dribble down, over his or her chin, and then into the receptacle waiting below. It was a great find, the half-moon plastic receptacle."That thing is handy, huh?" I ask my mother, walking past her, toward the kitchen."Yeah, it's the cat's meow," she says.I get a popsicle from the refrigerator and come back to the family room.They took my mother's stomach out about six months ago. At that point, there wasn't a lot left to remove--they had already taken out [I would use the medical terms here if I knew them] the rest of it about a year before. Then they tied the [something] to the [something], hoped that they had removed the offending portion, and set her on a schedule of chemotherapy. But of course they didn't get it all. They had left some of it and it had grown, it had come back, it had laid eggs, was stowed away, was stuck to the side of the spaceship. She had seemed good for a while, had done the chemo, had gotten the wigs, and then her hair had grown back--darker, more brittle. But six months later she began to have pain again--Was it indigestion? It could just be indigestion, of course, the burping and the pain, the leaning over the kitchen table at dinner; people have indigestion; people take Tums; Hey Mom, should I get some Tums?--but when she went in again, and they had "opened her up"--a phrase they used--and had looked inside, it was staring out at them, at the doctors, like a thousand writhing worms under a rock, swarming, shimmering, wet and oily--Good God!--or maybe not like worms but like a million little podules, each a tiny city of cancer, each with an unruly, sprawling, environmentally careless citizenry with no zoning laws whatsoever. When the doctor opened her up, and there was suddenly light thrown upon the world of cancer-podules, they were annoyed by the disturbance, and defiant. Turn off. The fucking. Light. They glared at the doctor, each podule, though a city into itself, having one single eye, one blind evil eye in the middle, which stared imperiously, as only a blind eye can do, out at the doctor. Go. The. Fuck. Away.The doctors did what they could, took the whole stomach out, connected what was left, this part to that, and sewed her back up, leaving the city as is, the colonists to their manifest destiny, their fossil fuels, their strip malls and suburban sprawl, and replaced the stomach with a tube and a portable external IV bag. It's kind of cute, the IV bag. She used to carry it with her, in a gray backpack--it's futuristic-looking, like a synthetic ice pack crossed with those liquid food pouches engineered for space travel. We have a name for it. We call it "the bag."My mother and I are watching TV. It's the show where young amateur athletes with day jobs in marketing and engineering compete in sports of strength and agility against male and female bodybuilders. The bodybuilders are mostly blond and are impeccably tanned. They look great. They have names that sound fast and indomitable, names like American cars and electronics, like Firestar and Mercury and Zenith. It is a great show."What is this?" she asks, leaning toward the TV. Her eyes, once small, sharp, intimidating, are now dull, yellow, droopy, strained--the spitting gives them a look of constant exasperation."The fighting show thing," I say."Hmm," she says, then turns, lifts her head to spit."Is it still bleeding?" I ask, sucking on my popsicle."Yeah."We are having a nosebleed. While I was in the bathroom, she was holding the nose, but she can't hold it tight enough, so now I relieve her, pinching her nostrils with my free hand. Her skin is oily, smooth."Hold it tighter," she says."Okay," I say, and hold it tighter. Her skin is hot.Toph's shoes continue to rumble.A month ago Beth was awake early; she cannot remember why. She walked down the stairs, shushing the green carpet, down to the foyer's black slate floor. The front door was open, with only the screen door closed. It was fall, and cold, and so with two hands she closed the large wooden door, click, and turned toward the kitchen. She walked down the hall and into the kitchen, frost spiderwebbed on the corners of its sliding glass door, frost on the bare trees in the backyard. She opened the refrigerator and looked inside. Milk, fruit, IV bags dated for proper use. She closed the refrigerator. She walked from the kitchen into the family room, where the curtains surrounding the large front window were open, and the light outside was white. The window was a bright silver screen, lit from behind. She squinted until her eyes adjusted. As her eyes focused, in the middle of the screen, at the end of the driveway, was my father, kneeling.It's not that our family has no taste, it's just that our family's taste is inconsistent. The wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom, though it came with the house, is the house's most telling decorative statement, featuring a pattern of fifteen or so slogans and expressions popular at the time of its installation. Right On, Neat-O, Outta Sight!--arranged so they unite and abut in intriguing combinations. That-A-Way meets Way Out so that the A in That-A-Way creates A Way Out.The words are hand-rendered in stylized block letters, red and black against white. It could not be uglier, and yet the wallpaper is a novelty that visitors appreciate, evidence of a family with no pressing interest in addressing obvious problems of decor, and also proof of a happy time, an exuberant, fanciful time in American history that spawned exuberant and fanciful wallpaper.The living room is kind of classy, actually--clean, neat, full of heirlooms and antiques, an oriental rug covering the center of the hardwood floor. But the family room, the only room where any of us has ever spent any time, has always been, for better or for worse, the ultimate reflection of our true inclinations. It's always been jumbled, the furniture competing, with clenched teeth and sharp elbows, for the honor of the Most Wrong-looking Object. For twelve years, the dominant chairs were blood orange. The couch of our youth, that which interacted with the orange chairs and white shag carpet, was plaid--green, brown and white. The family room has always had the look of a ship's cabin, wood paneled, with six heavy wooden beams holding, or pretending to hold, the ceiling above. The family room is dark and, save for a general sort of decaying of its furniture and walls, has not changed much in the twenty years we've lived here. The furniture is overwhelmingly brown and squat, like the furniture of a family of bears. There is our latest couch, my father's, long and covered with something like tan-colored velour, and there is the chair next to the couch, which five years ago replaced the bloodoranges, a sofa-chair of brownish plaid, my mother's. In front of the couch is a coffee table made from a cross section of a tree, cut in such a way that the bark is still there, albeit heavily lacquered. We brought it back, many years ago, from California and it, like most of the house's furniture, is evidence of an empathetic sort of decorating philosophy--for aesthetically disenfranchised furnishings we are like the families that adopt troubled children and refugees from around the world--we see beauty within and cannot say no.One wall of the family room was and is dominated by a brick fireplace. The fireplace has a small recessed area that was built to facilitate indoor barbecuing, though we never put it to use, chiefly because when we moved in, we were told that raccoons lived somewhere high in the chimney. So for many years the recessed area sat dormant, until the day, about four years ago, that our father, possessed by the same odd sort of inspiration that had led him for many years to decorate the lamp next to the couch with rubber spiders and snakes, put a fish tank inside. The fish tank, its size chosen by a wild guess, ended up fitting perfectly."Hey hey!" he had said when he installed it, sliding it right in, with no more than a centimeter of give on either side. "Hey hey!" was something he said, and to our ears it sounded a little too Fonzie, coming as it did from a gray-haired lawyer wearing madras pants. "Hey hey!" he would say after such miracles, which were dizzying in their quantity and wonderment--in addition to the Miracle of the Fish-tank Fitting, there was, for example, the Miracle of Getting the TV Wired Through the Stereo for True Stereo Sound, not to mention the Miracle of Running the Nintendo Wires Under the Wall-to-Wall Carpet So as Not to Have the Baby Tripping Over Them All the Time Goddammit. (He was addicted to Nintendo.) To bring attention to each marvel, he would stand before whoever happened to be in the room and, while grinning wildly, grip his hands together in triumph, over one shoulder and then the other, like the Cub Scout who won the Pinewood Derby. Sometimes, for modesty's sake, he would do it with his eyes closed and his head tilted. Did I do that?"Loser," we would say."Aw, screw you," he would say, and go make himself a Bloody Mary.The ceiling in one corner of the living room is stained in concentric circles of yellow and brown, a souvenir from heavy rains the spring before. The door to the foyer hangs by one of its three hinges. The carpet, off-white wall-to-wall, is worn to its core and has not been vacuumed in months. The screen windows are still up--my father tried to take them down but could not this year. The family room's front window faces east, and because the house sits beneath a number of large elms, it receives little light. The light in the family room is not significantly different in the day and the night. The family room is usually dark.I am home from college for Christmas break. Our older brother, Bill, just went back to D.C., where he works for the Heritage Foundation--something to do with eastern European economics, privatization, conversion. My sister is home because she has been home all year--she deferred law school to be here for the fun. When I come home, Beth goes out."Where are you going?" I usually say."Out," she usually says.I am holding the nose. As the nose bleeds and we try to stop it, we watch TV. On the TV an accountant from Denver is trying to climb up a wall before a bodybuilder named Striker catches him and pulls him off the wall. The other segments of the show can be tense--there is an obstacle course segment, where the contestants are racing against each other and also the clock, and another segment where they hit each other with sponge-ended paddles, both of which can be extremely exciting, especially if the contest is a close one, evenly matched and with much at stake--but this part, with the wall climbing, is too disturbing. The idea of the accountant being chased while climbing a wall...no one wants to be chased while climbing a wall, chased by anything, by people, hands grabbing at their ankles as they reach for the bell at the top. Striker wants to grab and pull the accountant down--he lunges every so often at the accountant's legs--all he needs is a good grip, a lunge and a grip and a good yank--and if Striker and his hands do that before the accountant gets to ring the bell...it's a horrible part of the show. The accountant climbs quickly, feverishly, nailing foothold after foothold, and for a second it looks like he'll make it, because Striker is so far below, two people-lengths easily, but then the accountant pauses. He cannot see his next move. The next grip is too far to reach from where he is. So then he actually backs up, goes down a notch to set out on a different path and when he steps down it is unbearable, the suspense. The accountant steps down and then starts up the left side of the wall, but suddenly Striker is there, out of nowhere--he wasn't even in the screen!--and he has the accountant's leg, at the calf, and he yanks and it's over. The accountant flies from the wall (attached by rope of course) and descends slowly to the floor. It's terrible. I won't watch this show again.Mom prefers the show where three young women sit on a pastel-colored couch and recount blind dates that they have all enjoyed or suffered through with the same man. For months, Beth and Mom have watched the show, every night. Sometimes the show's participants have had sex with one another, but use funny words to describe it. And there is the funny host with the big nose and the black curly hair. He is a funny man, and has fun with the show, keeps everything buoyant. At the end the show, the bachelor picks one of the three with whom he wants to go on another date. The host then does something pretty incredible: even though he's already paid for the three dates previously described, and even though he has nothing to gain from doing anything more, he still gives the bachelor and bachelorette money for their next date.Mom watches it every night; it's the only thing she can watch without falling asleep, which she does a lot, dozing on and off during the day. But she does not sleep at night."Of course you sleep at night," I say."I don't," she says."Everyone sleeps at night," I say--this is an issue with me--"even if it doesn't feel like it. The night is way, way too long to stay awake the whole way through. I mean, there have been times when I was pretty sure I had stayed up all night, like when I was sure the vampires from Salem's Lot--do you remember that one, with David Soul and everything? With the people impaled on the antlers? I was afraid to sleep, so I would stay up all night, watching that little portable TV on my stomach, the whole night, afraid to drift off, because I was sure they'd be waiting for just that moment, just when I fell asleep, to come and float up to my window, or down the hall, and bite me, all slow-like. . ."She spits into her half-moon and looks at me."What the hell are you talking about?"In the fireplace, the fish tank is still there, but the fish, four or five of those bug-eyed goldfish with elephantiasis, died weeks ago. The water, still lit from above by the purplish aquarium light, is gray with mold and fish feces, hazy like a shaken snow globe. I am wondering about something. I am wondering what the water would taste like. Like a nutritional shake? Like sewage? I think of asking my mother: What do you think that would taste like? But she will not find the question amusing. She will not answer."Would you check it?" she says, referring to her nose.I let go of her nostrils. Nothing.I watch the nose. She is still tan from the summer. Her skin is smooth, brown. Then it comes, the blood, first in a tiny rivulet, followed by a thick eel, venturing out, slowly. I get a towel and dab it away."It's still coming," I say.Her white blood cell count has been low. Her blood cannot clot properly, the doctor had said the last time this had happened, so, he said, we can have no bleeding. Any bleeding could be the end, he said. Yes, we said. We were not worried. There seemed to be precious few opportunities to draw blood, with her living, as she did, on the couch. I'll keep sharp objects out of proximity, I had joked to the doctor. The doctor did not chuckle. I wondered if he had heard me. I considered repeating it, but then figured that he had probably heard me but had not found it funny. But maybe he didn't hear me. I thought briefly, then, about supplementing the joke somehow, pushing it over the top, so to speak, with the second joke bringing the first one up and creating a sort of one-two punch. No more knife fights, I might say. No more knife throwing, I might say, heh heh. But this doctor does not joke much. Some of the nurses do. It is our job to joke with the doctors and nurses. It is our job to listen to the doctors, and after listening to the doctors, Beth usually asks the doctors specific questions--How often will she have to take that? Can't we just add that to the mix in the IV?--and then we sometimes add some levity with a witty aside. From books and television I knowto do this. One should joke in the face of adversity; there is always humor, we are told. But in the last few weeks, we haven't found much. We have been looking for funny things, but have found very little."I can't get the game to work," says Toph, who has appeared from the basement. Christmas was a week ago, and we got him a bunch of new games for the Sega."What?""I can't get the game to work.""Is it turned on?""Yes.""Is the cartridge plugged all the way in?""Yes.""Turn it off and on again.""Okay," he says, and goes back downstairs.Through the family room window, in the middle of the white-silver screen, my father was in his suit, a gray suit, dressed for work. Beth paused in the entrance between the kitchen and the family room and watched. The trees in the yard across the street were huge, gray-trunked, high-limbed, the short grass on the lawn yellowed, spotted with fall leaves. He did not move. His suit, even with him kneeling, leaning forward, was loose on his shoulders and back. He had lost so much weight. A car went by, a gray blur. She waited for him to get up.You should see the area where her stomach was. It's grown like a pumpkin. Round, bloated. It's odd--they removed the stomach, and some of the surrounding area if I remember correctly, but even with the removal of so much thereabouts, she looks pregnant. You can see it, the bulge, even under the blanket. I'm assuming it's the cancer, but I haven't asked my mother, or Beth. Was it the bloating of the starving child? I don't know. I don't ask questions. Before, when I said that I asked questions, I lied. The nose has at this point been bleeding for about ten minutes. She had had one nosebleed before, two weeks ago maybe, and Beth could not make it stop, so she and Beth had gone to the emergency room. The hospital people had kept her for two days. Her oncologist, who sometimes we liked and sometimes we did not, came and visited and glanced at stainless steel charts and chatted on the side of the bed--he has been her oncologist for many years. They gave her new blood and had monitored her white blood cell count. They had wanted to keep her longer, but she had insisted on going home; she was terrified of being in there, was finished with hospitals, did not want-- She had come out feeling defeated, stripped, and now, safely at home, she did not want to go back. She had made me and Beth promise that she would never have to go back. We had promised. "Okay," we said. "I'm serious," she said. "Okay," we said. I push her forehead as far back as possible. The arm of the couch is soft and pliable. She spits. She is used to the spitting, but still makes strained, soft vomiting noises. "Does it hurt?" I ask. "Does what hurt?" "The spitting." "No, it feels good, stupid." "Sorry." A family walks by outside, two parents, a small child in snowpants and a parka, a stroller. They do not look through our window. It is hard to tell if they know. They might know but are being polite. People know. My mother likes to have the curtains open so she can see the yard and the street. During the day it is often very bright outside, and though the brightness is visible from inside the family room, somehow the light does not travel effectively into the family room, in terms of bringing to the family room any noticeable illumination. I am not a proponent of the curtains being open. Some people know. Of course they know. People know. Everyone knows. Everyone is talking. Waiting. I have plans for them, the nosy, the inquisitive, the pitying, have developed elaborate fantasies for those who would see us as grotesque, pathetic, our situation gossip fodder. I picture strangulations--Tsk tsk, I hear she's- GURGLE!--neck-breakings--what will happen to that poor little bo-CRACK!--I picture kicking bodies as they lie curled on the ground, spitting blood as they--Jesus Christ, Jesus fucking Christ, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!--beg for mercy. I lift them over my head and then bring them down, break them over my knee, their spines like dowels of balsa. Can't you see it? I push offenders into giant vats of acid and watch them struggle, scream as the acid burns, breaks them apart. My hands fly into them, breaking their skin--I pull out hearts and intestines and toss them aside. I do head-crushings, beheadings, some work with baseball bats--the variety and degree of punishment depending on the offender and the offense. Those whom I don't like or my mother doesn't like in the first place get the worst--usually long, drawn-out strangulations, faces of red then purple then mauve. Those I barely know, like the family that just walked by, are spared the worst--nothing personal. I'll run them over with my car. We are both distantly worried about the bleeding nose, my mother and I, but are for the time being working under the assumption that the nose will stop bleeding. While I hold her nose she holds the half-moon receptacle as it rests on the upper portion of her chest, under her chin.Just then I have a great idea. I try to get her to talk funny, the way people talk when their nose is being held. "Please?" I say. "No," she says. "C'mon." "Cut it out." "What?"

Bookclub Guide

US1. 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 book? 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 America? 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 of recompense?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?

From Our Editors

Within five weeks, a college senior loses both his parents to cancer and is bequeathed his eight-year-old brother. Having finished college and moved to Berkeley, Calif., with his little brother, Toph, he tries to be a father. Despite the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning and bill-paying, he is still just a playful older brother. Unique, entertaining, self-deprecating, satirical yet startlingly beautiful, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a passionate and funny true story of a troubled family. Might magazine founder and McSweeney's editor Dave Eggers recounts his heartwrenching experiences in this darkly humorous, self-conscious anti-memoir.

Editorial Reviews

"For 40 years readers have been waiting around on J. D. Salinger to send down a new manuscript from high atop his reclusive Vermont mountain. Well, the vigil is over and we can forget about hearing from Salinger. He's been replaced by a stunning new writer. His name is Dave Eggers." —Tampa Tribune"Like any good trip, it's not the destination, but what's around the bend that counts. [And Eggers] takes us on a trip where he throws his hat out the window, rather than into the ring--to a place between autobiography and fiction, a place just off a bumpy road where truth is perhaps most comfortable. Exhilarating! Stunning! Heartbreaking! A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius amazes constantly." —The Globe and Mail"Eggers unfailingly captures the reader with gorgeous conviction." —Lynn Crosbie, The Toronto Star"A virtuosic piece of writing, a big, daring, manic-depressive stew of a book that noisily announces the debut of a talented — yes, staggeringly talented — new writer." — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times"Scathingly perceptive and hysterically funny.... Eggers reveals a true, and truly broken, heart." —People"Eggers crafts something universal here, something raw and real and wonderful that transcends any zeitgeist and manages to deal trenchantly with 'big issues' that often prove too daunting for younger writers: mortality, youth, the artifice of writing, the Zen of Frisbee. This is laugh-out-loud funny and utterly unforgettable." —San Francisco Chronicle"Eggers evokes the terrible beauty of youth like a young Bob Dylan, frothing with furious anger--. A comic and moving witness that transcends and transgresses formal boundaries." —Washington Post"A brave work, and not a little heartbreaking." —National Post

Employee Review

This is the story of Dave Eggers, a 21-year-old college student who leaves school to raise his eight-year-old brother after their parents both succumb to cancer within five weeks of each other. If you're looking here for a story of tears, inspiration and empowerment, try one of Oprah's lachrymal literary offerings. This is unlike any memoir I have ever read. Eggers' story is funny, absurd, clever, self-indulgent and unexpectedly moving. It's not perfect by any means, but it comes close to fulfilling the audacious promise of its title.