A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius
Dave Eggers
(Simon & Schuster)
<have found two good writers. Good writers are hard to find. One is called Something David Wallace and I will tell you about him later. The other is Dave Eggers. Eggers is a kid in his twenties who has written a memoir. Well, sort of a memoir.

His Catholic, middle class parents died within weeks of each other when Eggers was twenty. He took on the task of raising his kid brother Toph, who was eight. They moved from Lake Forest in Illinois to Berkeley, rented a small house, hung family photos on the wall, and moved in what was left of the family furniture. Their sister Beth lived a block away. She was getting a law degree at Cal. Dave supported Toph by working as a temp. With nothing but energy, youth and talent (and the ten thousand dollars his parents left him) Eggers started a funky magazine called Might. It was about young people by young people. He now puts out a literary quarterly called McSweeney's.

Eggers has known grief at an early age, loss and the huge responsibility of raising a boy. All of this has given him a handle on what is important and what is not. The ecstasy of youth in the face of death is important. When you know life is fragile, a temporary thing, it makes you want to gobble up experience, to hold in your hand for an instant the sheer beauty of it all. Eggers don't dwell on this in his book but he does show us with words. He makes us see it. And when we see it, we weep with the shared commonality of the intimate understanding that we now share.

He's a very uneven writer. Sometimes he goes on and on --- you understand what he is trying to do but he doesn't do it. This is not a matter of poor editing; it is just that he is aiming so high, trying so hard to reach something that is almost impossible to reach --- one just have to cut him some slack. He is an uneven writer but all very good writers are uneven. It is not possible to write well all the time.

Eggers is a remarkably astute writer. His writing --- of things, of what's going on, of what the feelings are --- is precise, on the dime. He has thought seriously about what he is showing you with his words. He has important things to say, as Shakespeare had important things to say. And like Shakespeare, sometimes his words just sing off the page. Sometimes, like Shakespeare, Eggers is so right it takes one's breath away.

I am a writer and I know such writing is very hard to do and very rare. Attention must be paid.

--- Hugh Gallagher

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You can call up McSweeney's at

One page tells us what McSweeney's is:

Hugh Gregory Gallagher is author of FDR's Splendid Deception and, more recently, Black Bird Fly Away. He can be reached at
  • 'zine
  • "for the junior Harper's set."
  • small
  • very small
  • tiny
  • insignificant
  • annoying
  • trivial
  • "with subject matters ranging from murder mysteries in Indian villages to pirate adventures and life on the moon,
  • it's like it's produced by a troop of Boy Scouts."
  • precious
  • inconsequential
  • pointless
  • Belle epoque
  • "throw it across the room"

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