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Summary of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”
The title of the book gives the reader a clue of a sad tale. Classified as a memoir-autobiography, the story is based on real-life events. “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is an exquisite piece of art revolving around the tale of a young boy who assumes the responsibility of his brother after their parent’s death. Losing parents at a tender age is heartbreaking to children. Being a single parent for an adult is challenging but when a child has to take up that role it becomes more complicated. When Egger finds himself in that position, it becomes hard to believe that a humorous dialogue can come from the situation. Contrary to that thought, Egger creates an incredible sense of humor from the situation which is evident in the fourth part of this story. Internal dialogue and self-criticism stand out in this scene. Perhaps this is a reminder that people should always find ways to make their burdensome situations lighter irrespective of how serious a situation might be.
The first time I read this book, specifically part four, I felt that the author wanted to express his personal experiences through dialogue no matter how tough they may have been. Rereading the book revealed to me an amazing sense of humor which is evident throughout it, overlooking the sad turn of the author’s life. Dave Egger has used sophisticated language in the dialogue making the reader wonder how a little boy like Toph can be able to speak such deep language. Judging from his verbal expression, Toph surpasses the intelligence of a normal young boy and it is okay to assume that the child is a super genius. Most of his views are expressed as he communicates with Dave. Expressing our sorrows through dialogue is a great way of relieving the heartbreak we have had in life. Toph seems to perfectly understand the cliché that a problem shared is a problem half-solved.
Nothing else relays this message more clearly than an analysis of the dialogue from pages 114-120 of the book. In this scene, Egger steps out to comment about the book in person. Dave’s rational thoughts and feelings are evident in this part. Verbal communication between Dave, Toph, and his peers takes place in part v of the story. In page 114, he describes the presence of people as surreal and immeasurably comforting for Dave. The presence of those people is a reminder of where Dave and Toph came from since they left Chicago and lost touch with everyone including their friends, their parent’s friends, and relatives. As Egger explains that it was odd when nobody followed him and Beth tightly or checked on them, a tone of disappointment is felt. It is disappointing to note that people who were supposed to follow up and check on the orphaned children failed to do that. It is no wonder Dave says that they create for them a world of faux, aunts, uncles, and cousins (Egger 114). The situation speaks of how one’s close associates, friends, or relatives can desert them in their most time of need.
Despite the faux, Dave still has people he can refer to as loyal friends. A good example is John, who even bought him a beer. In the conversation, Dave states that he has known John forever. The description he gives of John as a neighbor and he still pictures their early days eating popsicles under the kitchen table with him expresses a lasting friendship. Further details of what they did at the age of nine to ten years are described as nostalgic days of how John’s parents regarded him as their son are narrated. Dave explains their ties as inextricable, with closets full of each other’s clothes. Sadly, his parents also died. John illustrates friendships that last and are unforgettable. Though John went to Oakland, and has not been in touch with Dave, when they meet the conversation stirs up as if they have been together all their lives (Egger 116). In the next page, however, the dialogue changes to John asking about Toph and the job search. John is indeed the perfect definition of what a true friend is and how a caring friend should handle their friendships, especially in times of difficulties.
It is important to note that Dave blends humor with witty exaggerated melodrama in the repertoire of tones. He breaks any serious information with the humor, thereby giving a blunt honest analysis of who he is. In the Toph scene for example, the expression of humor can be seen during the conversation about the big day which included various fun activities, like open house, movies, dinner, basketball, and ice cream. His use of whistles, bells, gimmicks, and creative expressions continues to intersperse the humor in this scene. It is amazing to see how Dave speaks regarding the activities. He stops ripping himself apart for a moment leaving the reader confused over what he believes in and what his brother also believes.
Dave addresses all his challenges and problems concerning how life has changed since he started taking care of his brother. Egger speaks about the guilt, superstitions of how people perceive him, the fear of the child welfare agency, and how he contemplates justice at night should anything happen to his brother. All those are part of the worries that Egger faces every day of his life as the caretaker of his little brother Toph. While the guilt is largely based on his fear of being unable to be a good parent to Toph, superstitions become a problem to him because he focuses on what people think of him too much to care less about his situation. The fear of the child welfare comes from his inexperience in parenting. In other words, he is not certain and confident in his ability to raise his younger brother after being orphaned. Apparently, he wonders what to answer to child welfare in case they start questioning him about the child’s wellbeing, especially given that he has never before raised another child and as a single parent. Many issues cloud his thoughts. Although he wants to be the best for Toph, he sounds overly protective and willing to do anything should someone hurt his brother. Dave has a high sense of moral obligation and is ready to bring up his brother in the right way. He seems not to care whether he grows paranoid provided he can provide the best possible protection to Toph.
Dialogue in “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” comes out as a way of channeling sorrow and thoughts that lie in the mind of Dave. For me, this book is one of its kind. I have not come across a book that gives the author an opportunity to express their fear and criticize himself without feeling condemned. I have also not seen a character with such heavy responsibilities despite being young. The dialogues reveal how people change with time, and those who you once thought would always be there become less concerned with you. As the faux walk away, life is like a coin with two sides. Genuine and reliable friends remain beyond time and distance and reconnecting with them is very easy. In conclusion, this is an exceptional piece of work depicting Egger’s passion for writing.
Egger, Dave. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius. 2014, p.114-120. https://read.amazon.com/.