A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is a memoir by David Eggers that’s not a memoir, but a manic tale of personal tragedy and family. Both his parents die from cancer (1 month apart) when he is 21. His brother Toph is 8 years old at this time. The book is essentially an untidy story of how Eggers deals with the task of being a parent and brother to Toph in the years after.

I took two points from this book. First, a memoir does not have to be written in the style of Bill Clinton’s “My Life”. This one was written much in the same way as life is often lived: without structure, without apparent meaning or underlying moral, without a feeling that life was all along leading up to something.

Second point I took from the book is that a relationship with another human being (in this case Dave’s brother Toph) can be a simple source of meaning in an absurd world. I don’t mean that in some dramatic way. In fact, for all practical purposes, this relationship may not appear as anything more than two people walking along the “road of life” together for a time, but in that time, something emerges which almost makes life worth living even when it’s filled with tragedy and a crushing lack of hope. Here’s a quote I liked:

Toph does not know the words, and I know few of the words, but you cannot fucking stop us from singing.

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