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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Paperback – February 13, 2001
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"My Father, the Pornographer" by Fang Lizhi
A son tries to understand his late father, by reading the 400-plus novels left to him in his father's will. Check out "My Father, the Pornographer".
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But on to the true story. At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother's upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey's Hiroshima.)
The book is also, perhaps less successfully, about being young and hip and out to conquer the world (in an ironic, media-savvy, Gen-X way, naturally). In the early '90s, Eggers was one of the founders of the very funny Might Magazine, and he spends a fair amount of time here on Might, the hipster culture of San Francisco's South Park, and his own efforts to get on to MTV's Real World. This sort of thing doesn't age very well--but then, Eggers knows that. There's no criticism you can come up with that he hasn't put into A.H.W.O.S.G. already. "The book thereafter is kind of uneven," he tells us regarding the contents after page 109, and while that's true, it's still uneven in a way that is funny and heartfelt and interesting.
All this self-consciousness could have become unbearably arch. It's a testament to Eggers's skill as a writer--and to the heartbreaking particulars of his story--that it doesn't. Currently the editor of the footnote-and-marginalia-intensive journal McSweeney's (the last issue featured an entire story by David Foster Wallace printed tinily on its spine), Eggers comes from the most media-saturated generation in history--so much so that he can't feel an emotion without the sense that it's already been felt for him. What may seem like postmodern noodling is really just Eggers writing about pain in the only honest way available to him. Oddly enough, the effect is one of complete sincerity, and--especially in its concluding pages--this memoir as metafiction is affecting beyond all rational explanation. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Several reviewers have written of the way the book loses focus after the first section, but to me that is one of its strengths. In fiction the protagonist doesn't wander around pointlessly, especially not after a significant event like the death of a parent, but in the real world lives are untidy. As a new parent I appreciated the author's experimental attitude toward child rearing as well as his attempt to create a fascinating life for himself. The quality of the writing made his business woes, his menus, and his Frisbee obsession equally fascinating. The memoirs of a man who isn't afraid to show his own warts, but is touchingly considerate of those closest to him, this is a kind and engaging book.
And while these factors will elicit cries of how overrated the work is, I find them the fuel behind what is a darkly compelling fever dream. Eggers takes the theme of being consumed (by cancer, by being young and wanting to make a mark on the world, by the responsibility of raising a child while maintaining friendships) and exposes its results in a harsh light. And it's angry and difficult and ... well ... real.
Far different and more challenging than the back-patting, self-congratulatory, "Gee, aren't I a strong and admirable person for surviving these tribulations?" tone that fills most stories of this genre. I congratulate him on avoiding making things neat and tidy. The result is an astonishing, staggering, and, ultimately, heartbreaking work.
But it's awful. It doesn't matter whether Eggers really believes he's clever or is merely posturing as such for a lark. I'm sorry to be harsh, but if Mr. Eggers is anything in person like he is on the page, people must flee the room when they see him moving their way at a cocktail party. I can't explain why I felt compelled to finish this dull and tedious book, other than I felt it simply *had* to get better at some point. It doesn't.
Do yourself a HUGE favor: pass this one by. I wish Mr. Eggers and his family all the best, but a decent turn of phrase once in a while does not an author make. Don't believe anyone who would have you think that critics of this book simply don't 'get' it. In this case, there is no substance whatsoever and precious little in the smoke-and-mirrors department, either.
If you're looking for clever and/or funny, you'd be better off with Richard Russo's fabulous "Straight Man", Tom Perrotta's "Little Children", Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love", John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy Of Dunces" or a thousand other books I could rattle off. Really, ANY book is better than AHWOSG. It's that bad. Sorry. :)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Did he ever grow up? Tedious read....funny occasionally but mostly boring.Published 12 days ago by Dallas
I tried to like this book. It sounded like it should be interesting. I admit I didn't get very far into it, but I got really tired of reading about how sick his mother was with... Read morePublished 13 days ago by fussy reader
His writing style was a little hard for me to stick with, even though I finished it. Admirable story, though, of a very young guy (early 20's) taking on the responsibility of... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Dottie Thompson
Stream of conscious descriptions of irresponsible actions in the face of tragedies--of family members and friends. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Katie
Really wanted to like this. Kept reading hoping it would finally grab me. But it just didn't. Maybe I am just the wrong generation for this story.Published 14 days ago by mt49
Not a book for every one, but for some of us very engaging. I found myself, at times, frustrated with the protagonist/narrator, but had to admire Eggers willingness to paint a less... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Edward K. Bowen
I made myself finish reading this book, thinking maybe there would be a some meaning buried in this rambling mess. However, the end was typical of the book - pointless . Read morePublished 2 months ago by R. Lee