When you see the title of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, you can come to one of two conclusions:
- The author is arrogant
- The book is tongue-in-cheek
In this case, it happens to be a bit of both (an acquaintance of mine who knows Eggers admits that he does have a somewhat high opinion of himself), but mostly, the grandiosity of the title springs from the characterization of the main character.
A.H.B.W.O.S.G. is largely an autobiography: Egger’s parents both die from cancer within a short span of time, and he, a young twenty-something, takes on the responsibility of raising his young brother by moving across the country and being avant garde. By the second chapter, I got the distinct impression that Eggers was very familiar with Modernists, since he employed a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing and synchronicity. The book is a sandwich of several levels: there’s Dave the flashback character, Dave the autobiographer, and Dave the omniscient narrator. It’s an interesting study in the filter through which life passes in the eyes of a novelist.
Eggers lets his readers know from the very beginning that the book is rife with symbolism and metaphors. That this autobiography has already been wrenched into a literary form. Throughout the text, the reader becomes acutely aware that Eggers has transformed a real account of an event into a completely imagined one: for instance, when he interviews for a spot on Real World, the interview devolves into an imaginary Q&A that describes the circumstances of Eggers childhood in an affluent Chicago suburb. By the end, he has clearly broken the Fourth Wall, as his other characters comment upon their portrayal in a book.
It’s a long, winding, complicated narrative, filled with dense prose, large metaphors, but it really is in many ways a heartbreaking work of (some) genius.