28 June 2011

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

When you were young did you ever wonder what would happen if your parents died?

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius   

I did.

When I was about 15 or 16 my dad became quite ill; he was hospitalized for a while and almost died. We knew that the possibility of is death was a very real thing. The tension was staggering. I was the oldest of six kids. 

What do you think the second thought on  my mind was at the time? 
~"What if something happened to Mom too?"

Thinking back on it now I can't believe that there wasn't some sort of plan in place and 
I really believe there wasn't. By that point we either had no grandparents living or just one who was old and very ill. We had one aunt on my mom's side and she was divorced and pretty frazzled with the raising of her only son. We had one uncle on my dad's side who seemed like a possibility as they were raising three kids as old or older than myself; but we weren't really close to them emotionally and I can't imagine the financial burden of raising six kids on top of the emotional strain.

Really...who's going to raise SIX kids that aren't their responsibility?

I was certain that I'd do it. I really thought I could. I was also certain that the only possible solution I could imagine was for us kids to be split up among different people; family...close family friends... I was determined that if that had to happen due to my young age, I would work to be able to take custody of everyone as soon as I was old enough.

Dave Eggers' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius explores a very similar situation that really happened.

Yes, he works very hard to convince the reader that it is fictional, at least only based on truth; his truth. My friend and I both feel that he doth protest too much though. We believe it is autobiographical. 

At the age of 21 Dave and his older siblings expected their mother's death; sooner than later. What they didn't expect was a death-sentence-diagnosis for their dad that resulted in his almost instantaneous and previously unexpected death.

Their youngest sibling was 7 years old. It was decided that Dave would take on most of the responsibility of raising Christopher ("Toph").

Dave gives word to feelings all parents experience at one time or another. It seems that perhaps he experiences them more frequently though. 

As the mom of five kids ranging in age from 5 to 15 I admit to having experienced most of the concerns he explores. In truth, I've wondered as he did whether or not something horrifying might happen to one of my children due to the awful selfishness I've exhibited by needing a bit of "me time" or "us time" for my husband and me. Overall, I've always been able to keep those feelings from ruining life for all of us. They are crippling thoughts but I've never allowed them to cripple me. Can you imagine the "case" I'd be if I did. Five kids, remember?

So, Dave explores all of this.
He does so with a book that is mostly written as a string-of-consciousness-sort-of-thing. My brother pointed out that such writing can become exhausting or annoying. I felt that due to the subject matter it really worked though. I liked it. I could feel what he was feeling.

Dave really cornered my market when he was thinking about how lucky Toph was to be hanging out with him and how lucky he was to be exposed to the great music Dave enjoyed... Oh yeah. He even explored the idea of homeschooling Toph because he was envious of how much time the teachers spent with him.

As a mom who homeschooled all of our kids until our oldest was finished with sixth grade, and then some others longer, I attempted to expose our kids to the best of everything from all time periods: books, movies, music. There is so much more to life than today's available choices. Still, one worries about recreating yourself via your children (if we're honest). That is not something we wanted to have happen. We only want for them to be well rounded individuals who can related to people of all ages.

Here is a quote that expresses part of Dave's obvious concern:

"...when someone noticed him (Toph) for being him(self), we would all have to stand back a second and see him for what he actually was, at least superficially: a seventh-grade boy. Of course, he had a difficult time discerning, himself. He had recently made this clear, when he and Marny and I were driving back from the beach. She and I were talking about one of the new interns, who, at twenty-two, was much younger than we had assumed~
"Really?" said Toph. "I though he was our age."

Sure, mistakes were made in the raising of Toph.
We ALL make mistakes. All. The. Time.

The real point is the great love fostered between the two. They grew and they grew together. They were a team, united. They made the best of a horrifying situation. they made it work.

I appreciated Eggers' raw honesty.

Oh...I also appreciated the sense of humor he exhibited in the titling of his book.
He acknowledged the fact that everyone who would read his book would be able to pick it apart. They'd be able to find a million and one things wrong with it; and so he poked fun at the self-inflated idea of writing a book about yourself, about your own loss, and expecting others to read it.

I read it.
I liked it.

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