A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550

Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction in 2001. The memoir also won the 2001 Addison Metcalf Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Several newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, and Time, named Eggers’s work the best book of the year for 2000.

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There was a buzz about this book that caught a lot of people off guard, including reviewer Sarah Lyall, of the New York Times, who puts it this way: “Mr. Eggers’s decision to tell his story in the way he does was a big, self-exposing gamble, and one that seems to have paid off, judging from the admiring early reviews and the way the book is being passed like a new drug from reader to reader.”

While most critics find something in Eggers’s memoir to praise, many reviewers have difficulty trying to describe or categorize the book. Nicholas Confessore, in American Prospect, does not go for the anti-memoir tag that Eggers tried to create. “All told,” Confessore writes, “A.H.W.O.S.G. is less an anti-memoir than an ultra-memoir, almost confessional in its eagerness to put virtually every question of substance, memory, and motive plainly before the reader.”

With tongue in cheek, the Christian Science Monitor’s Ron Charles sums up his thoughts about the memoir in this way: “There are so many reasons to dislike this super-hip, self-consciously ironic autobiography that it’s something of a disappointment to report how wonderful it is.” Another reviewer, surprised at how good Eggers’s memoir turned out to be is Daniel Handler, who writes for the Village Voice, says, “The book has this giddy romantic streak all over it, along with the paralysis of acute self-consciousness that ought to cripple a memoir but liberates Eggers’s.”

One of the controversies of Eggers’s memoir is the question concerning its authenticity. The author readily admits in the book (as well as in some interviews) that he has trouble sticking to the truth. But Melanie...

(The entire section contains 550 words.)

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