A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers – a road trip to adulthood
When he was 21, Dave Eggers’ mom and dad died, 32 days apart, abandoning him and his eight-year-old brother Toph, to explore life as orphans. His part-personal, part anecdotal record of this involvement in his 2000 presentation A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius is not your traditional literary trip.
The siblings move from rural Illinois to California, where a poorly prepared and juvenile Eggers is left with the assignment of raising Toph and all the while managing single parenthood and youthful adulthood.
Dave and Toph leave their Chicago home in “a blur”, packing their assets into their red Civic and envisioning a pure life in the sun. “The mornings are filmstrip white and we have breakfast on the deck,” is the manner by which Eggers forsees it. The following chapters are an affection letter to California and the Big Sur coast, as they drive through the confounding cliffs singing in to the radio. The Highway One course is a notorious American road trip, depicted in incalculable novels and movies, and simple to envision, however the ever-gifted Eggers even lets you know how to envision it:
Never has the trip been depicted all the more clearly, more enthusiastically than it is by Eggers, as he speeds through Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, Monterey, belting out More Than A Feeling, with “the ocean exploding pink”. As he composes: “Just up here does the earth look round, just up here would you be able to see the bend of the planet at the edge of your peripheries. Just here would you say you are certain that you are careering on top of a big shiny globe, blurrily turning … Can you see this mother loving sky? That is to say, make them fuck been to California?”
This is a psychological journey as much as a geological one. For all the brash abundance of its composition it has at its heart the straightforward human story of a young fellow, managing insufferable loss, exploring himself towards adulthood.
There are no genuinely out-of-the-ordinary locations, just Chicago, the California coast and the hills of San Francisco. (“I’m getting tired of the hills, dependably the slopes, the turning the wheels to stop, and the road cleaning and those fucking buses attached to the ropes or wires or whatever.”) So while it may not be the most routine journey, it is absolutely a ride. I would take this effective, stimulated, living, breathing and blemished adventure over a drained old travelogue any day.