'I am owed,' says Dave Eggers - or 'Dave Eggers' - in his much admired A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Owed, that is, the right to publish a memoir in his mid-twenties, because losing both parents to cancer and bringing up your younger brother obviously cuts you quite a bit of slack. Owed, also, the right to move a few things around, to make people into characters, even to moralise - although he makes the remark when a composite figure called 'John' complains that the author is exploiting other people's experiences:
'I am owed.'
'You're not . . . You're like a . . . a cannibal or something.'
And owed, perhaps, as the book too often seems to assume, a sympathetic attitude to his capacity for huge self-indulgence. Rage and grief are important emotions in AHWOSG, as he likes to call it. But solipsism, knowingness, whimsy and a love of cute fonts are essential ingredients of the Eggers manner, too, and he can be off-puttingly keen to get this across: 'The Self-Aggrandisement as Art Form Aspect', 'The Self-Flagellation as Art Form Aspect', 'The Self-Aggrandisement Disguised as Self-Flagellation as Even Higher Art Form Aspect'. Eggers wanted it both ways - raw and cooked. So he presented himself as a strange amalgam of feelingful mourner, idiot savant and smartarse.
LRB 3 April 2003 | PDF Download