i went ahead and finished 'a heartbreaking work of staggering genius' last weekend, and am sparing scott the trouble of doing the same.
i had hope for this thing until the bitter end. all the terribleness of it could have been redeemed by one really powerful, yes, heartbreaking, scene. but as the book wore on, i began to have less and less idea of what that might be, and it became clearer that dave eggers didn't know either.
he sets it up to be a book about redemption. he makes his main character (himself, i guess) unlikable, self-absorbed, and full of doubt, but promises (or, i anticipated) that he would learn something valuable, would change, grow, learn something about writing, at least!.
but the final major metaphor of the book is the narrator's mother looking down from up above (ooh, heaven?), while he plays on the beach with his brother. and his apologies for trite and silly metaphors earlier in the book can only lead us to believe there are metaphors in the book he thinks are good, great, genius.
and yes, alright, his characters speak to him. but they don't jump off the page, which is what i was tempted to write in that last sentence. and the thing that sets the gimmickry of ahwosg apart from that of, say, david foster wallace, is that eggers never turns the lens around. he never makes the reader speak to him, never comes out with 'the only access you have to these tragedies is what i'm choosing to tell you about it, and you can't trust me!'.
we're left with tragedy after tragedy piled on top of one another in a way the author admits is gratuitous. the characters know they're being used, but is eggers trying to say he used them to make us feel a certain way? is he saying that we actually (in 'real' life) use the tragedies of others in the aftermaths of our own? we don't know. and the characters, and eggers, and his use of them are so boring by the end of the book, that i don't really care anymore.
and, the book's final redemption could have been 'this is powerful because it's labeled 'non-fiction' but really, everything is a fiction because it's presented a certain way by a certain author, and the reader has no choice but to take it for what it's worth...' but in my edition, eggers closes even this reading by including an appendix called 'mistakes we knew we were making.' i read enough of it to find that it was an attempt to display the TRUE non-fiction of the book.
this author, whose characters speak to him only about himself, whose book about his parents' death is so glibly titled, who displays some particular boring side of his boring characters in writing so unappealing he continually apologizes for it, is actually attempting tell you the truth of his story, and is desperate for you to care enough to read it.
(next book club we'll pick something we like... although we tried to do that this time, and look where it's brought us...)