Not sure…

November 15, 2009

…what to make of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I know for sure that I’m thankful to have the addition with the appendix, Mistakes We Knew We Were Making, because if there was any doubt in my mind that Eggers was successful in what he was attempting, a passage in the appendix convinced me.

The book is, as we’ve discussed, G., uneven. And it reminds me–only in parts, which limitation is a good thing–of other things I’ve read that are created in so intensely personal a way that they become indecipherable to others. Confessional is fine with me…but how can there be art without an attempt to communicate to others? Can there be expression, of anything, at all, without an audience in mind? Would it still be “expression”, or would it be something else? Anyway, if it’s just for you, and not for others, it should stay in your sock drawer like everyone’s bad high school poetry.

But only in parts…other parts, I think, are glorious. And finally, in the appendix, Eggers writes:

“The book was seen by its author as a stupid risk, and an ugly thing, and a betrayal, and overall, asĀ  a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life but a mistake which nevertheless he could not refrain from making, and worse, as a mistake he would encourage everyone to make, because everyone should make big, huge mistakes, because a) They don’t want you to; b) Because they haven’t the balls themselves and your doing it reminds them of their status as havers-of-no-balls; c) Because your life is worth documenting; d) because if you do not believe your life is worth documenting, or knowing about, then why are you wasting your time/our time? Our air? e) Because if you do it right and go straight toward them you like me will write to them, and will looking straight into their eyes when writing, will look straight into their fucking eyes, like a person sometimes can do with another person, and tell them something because even though you might not know them well, or at all, and even if you wrote in their books or hugged them or put your hand on their arm, you would still scarcely know them, but even so wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them.”

That last part again:

“…wrote a book that was really a letter to them, a messy fucking letter that you could barely keep a grip on, but a letter you meant, and a letter you sometimes wish you had not mailed, but a letter you are happy that made it from you to them.”

I think sums this glorious mess of a book up, exactly.

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Heartbreaking…

October 25, 2009

I’m midway through Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and even though the two have very little to do with each other in style or subject matter, it reminds me of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in an odd way (I haven’t read McCourt’s other memoirs).

I read Angela’s Ashes in high school, a little while before the movie came out. And I thought it was a beautiful, sad, funny book. Like most people who enjoyed it, I was looking forward to the movie. But I found that, because it lacked the charm and wit of the immediate narrative voice, the really tragic parts of the book became overwhelming. In other words, when it wasn’t McCourt telling us, the kind of life shown in the movie was just shitty without also being familiar and in some ways comforting.

And I think this is what Eggers’ book, turned into a movie, would be like. That it’s only the narrative voice which is keeping the story from being way too depressing (and I like me a depressing story…Steinbeck and Conrad are absolute all time favourites). Which is odd, because I’m also finding the narrator sort of annoying, as my friend suggested I might. I had just gotten to the point that I thought it was actually Eggers’ style I didn’t like when a passage reminded me of the space between the narrator and author, and I think now / again that I’m really enjoying it.

In a sad way, of course.