Dave Eggers is hard to pin down. One could go on about all his achievements or rather, all the things he did before he became super famous for his memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but first there is something that should be pointed out.
You can learn a lot from a book by reading its blurbs. I don”t mean about the plot I mean about the author, his influences and allies. On the back of “A.H.W.O.S.G.” (hardcover edition) we have blurbs from David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody. (The latter”s “this book does not need a blurb” is by far the best blurb.) Eggers is often compared to Wallace. They both toy with literary conventions and share a shameless wordiness and bodacious intelligence. They both tackle ambitious projects and somehow pull it off. And the kids love “em, especially the college-age literary types that enthrone young writers as their heroes (though they”d never admit it) in order to knock them down later on (for “selling out” perhaps?).
They are also both males. While everyone is busy talking about the irony of it all, the post-modern condition, etc., no one notices that the authors are not writing about the post-modern condition but, particularly, the post-modern guy condition. I have no intention of belittling the scope or relevancy of their work through this statement, but the fact remains that men and women have different experiences in our society and the writing of men cannot stand in for that women.
In “A.H.W.O.S.G.,” the narrator is often sensitive and thoughtful, but is frequently an asshole. He surrounds these episodes with a self-effacing anxiety and a masochistic awareness that soften their effect. But he cannot negate his maleness (which unfortunately comes through in his being an asshole) by exposing his humanity. Because that”s impossible. He is a guy. And ladies are not guys.
Back to the main point that Eggers is not writing about the post-modern condition but the post-modern guy condition. Where are the ambitious novels by unforgiving, shamelessly feminine, endlessly annoyed young women? Are they not being written or are we just not hearing about them? And if a book came out that really flaunted a woman”s true, 100 percent, all-or-nothing thoughts on writing, expression, truth, dry skin, toddlers, modesty, fear, low-fat muffins, global capitalism and the details of female urges, would it sell? Would men read it? Dave Eggers probably would.
Eggers admits to being an asshole he speaks about it openly. That is his strength. He has a relentless honesty that gives his work momentum and tangibility. You can feel the story crawl into your lap like a kid fresh from kindergarten, telling you about how his friend ate a bug during recess. Eggers has the indissoluble literary feel of someone who is telling a story relaying information, all of it, for better or worse to enliven the so-called living.
So here is the life story of this novel-ish memoir: When Eggers was twenty-one, both of his parents died of cancer within a month of each other. Eggers and his sister were then given the responsibility of raising their nine-year-old brother. In order to start anew, they ditched their Chicago suburb and moved to California Dreams! Punks! Ocean! to play frisbee on the beach and sing Journey songs for the edification of growing boys. “A.H.W.O.S.G.” delves into the banality and plain undesirability of death. In an amazing feat of stylistic acrobatics, this is done in a way that makes one laugh. In fact, it feels good to read a book like “A.H.W.O.S.G.”
Eggers creativity is vital and valuable but the whining chorus of critics and interpreters and generally confused curmudgeons try to drown out his efforts with their pointless opinions. You should go see him read. You should read the book he wrote. And you should ignore everything you have ever, will ever, or are reading about him.