A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggars

I was immediately drawn to this book’s title: it take a man of considering modesty to title his memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” I’ve heard nothing but great things about this books, how life-changing it is, etc. I knew that it was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and was featured on the Times list of the best books of the decade. And for the first half of the book, I got it. It starts with the heart-wrenching section detailing Eggar’s mother’s long battle with stomach cancer. After several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, David is just waiting for his mother to die. But his father dies unexpectedly of an undiagnosed cancer, and his mother follows weeks after leaving David in charge of his nine year old brother Toph.
David struggles to navigate through his new role as a parent. He varies between acting a brother, a father and a friend to his Toph and he alternates between attempting responsibility and ways to have fun with and cheer up his brother. David clearly loves his brother to death and is afraid that every mistake he makes as a parent will be the one that permanently screws the poor kid up. It’s beautifully written and I couldn’t put the book down.
But I probably should have, because in the second half, the book goes off the rails. After awhile I couldn’t connect to him at all. He seemed hell-bent on convincing the readers how DEEP his is, and how he knows death, unlike all those other posers. I got the points he was trying to make; his hesitance about capitalizing on the tragedies he’s lived through, and his desire to be a creative and subversive artist despite some disappointing signs that he might just be average. But it read as too hipster for me, like when he was pointing out the ethnicities of all of his non-white friends, trying to show us how contemporary he is, living in a Benetton ad (I know, I know, maybe that was the point. But still).
Ultimately I was disappointed with the book. It started off as so promising, but eventually I was just forcing myself to finish the book.


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