Dave Eggers was one of the founding editors of a now defunct magazine called Might. During its relatively short life, the magazine poked fun at everything. That same sense of humor can be found in Eggers’s memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). Despite the fact that Eggers was writing a story about his life, he was simultaneously making fun of the accepted form of memoir writing. Eggers leaves nothing untouched in his book, including the copyright page, which reads, “This is a work of fiction.” He goes on to explain, that, like anyone undertaking memoir, he could not possibly remember all the exact details of every act and conversation that he was involved in. Thus, in reading Eggers’s book, which is at times very sad, very disturbing, and very funny, readers are continually forced to ask themselves: Is this section true? Or is this the part that is fiction?
The sad parts of Eggers’s memoir are unmistakable. Eggers loses both his parents while he is in his early twenties. His parents die within weeks of one another and Eggers is left with a young brother to raise at a time when Eggers is not fully developed himself. The disturbing parts of his memoir involve friends and relatives who suffer mental depressions and threaten suicide. Others become ill and die. Some meet with accidents, such as falling several floors and surviving, but with handicaps. As for the funny parts, they run throughout the story as Eggers exposes his wacky inner thoughts, which are often laced with paranoia.
Though this is not a work of pure fiction, Eggers has been hailed by many critics as the twenty-first century’s version of J. D. Salinger, known around the world for his novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Eggers is reminiscent of Salinger’s protagonist Holden Caulfield, a character that is often angry about everything and everyone in his world.
Did this raise a question for you?