As a piece of art, I have to give it to Dave Eggers. AHBWOSG is carefully composed, wonderfully constructed, funny, poignant, and moving. But it’s also a pile of emotional bullshit that took me ages to read, and I couldn’t get away from it fast enough once I had inhaled the last intentionally-breakneck run-on paragraph. I have now moved on, immediately and purposefully, to “Men Explain Things to Me.”
But back to the “Staggering Genius,” which is a memoir, slightly fictionalized, as Eggers explains in his astonishingly long and hilarious preface (which he tells you not to bother reading, but is honestly outstandingly brilliant)… He lost both of his parents when he was a senior in college, and became the primary caregiver to his 7 year-old brother. That’s a slap-in-the-face of an experience, and worth writing about, for sure.
And boy, is he self-indulgent about the grief and fears that ran his life during that time. And then, he is self-indulgent about the self-indulgence about the grief and fears. It’s a book dripping with megalomania, and avoidance of feelings, and it is self-loathing about the self-indulgence, and lush in its self-loathing. And as a person who has experienced a fair amount of grief and fear in the last few years, it is infuriating to experience in someone else’s first person an utter drowning in those feelings, responded to with frantic avoidance which seems to continue up through the writing of the work.
This could have been Eggers’ attempt at finally processing the feelings that he never allowed himself to experience in a healthful way in the moment, but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels as though the lampooning he directs at his younger self is just another tool of deflection, and maybe fifty years from now, he’ll write another book about how he wrote this book, and how selfish and lazy it was of him and how the unprocessed experiences festered and poisoned him. Or maybe he went to therapy and figured it out. And maybe that made him a shittier artist. Because, as I say, this is really a heart-breaking work of staggering genius.