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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

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I wish I could agree with stu that this really is "genius" and a big asset to the book

I was being over-generous with the term "genius"... smile.gif

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Finished parts 2 & 3. Still engaged, but figured Eggers must have left a crucial word out of his title - "exhausting." As in, A Heartbreaking, Exhausting Work of Staggering Genius.

Before I launch into stuff I don't like, though, I ought to praise where praise is due. (BTW, I have a habit of repeating long passages of text for effect ... it helps me remember what was so effective about it, and also, I figure, maybe will get other people who are reading the thread intrigued about the book and wanting to read it and join in the discussion.)

First, I love the transition from part 1 to part 2, the hospital scene where Dave keeps seeing his mother open her eyes, then Toph wakes up, comes to him "and I take his hand and we go through the window and fly up and over the quickly sketched trees and then to California." Really lovely, and a not-too-self-conscious way of avoiding a maudlin or depressing death scene.

I saw this chapter as Dave and Toph trying to determine the boundaries of their father/son relationship.  I think the references to '80s rock are used to mask Dave's cultural ignorance of any more significant literary or musical influences, something which becomes more apparent later in the book.

The cultural divide between Dave and the typical suburban parents is shown in the narrator's discomfort with the moms at T-ball.

Great point about the 80s music, Crow. Also loved how he deals with his fear of the car careening off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, as he and Toph - now a symbiotic duo - become superheroes:

See, after the collision, as our red Civic arced through the sky, we would quickly plan out -- no, no, we would instantly know the plan -- what to do, the plan of course being obvious, so obvious: as the car arced downward, we would each, simultaneously, open our doors, car still descending, then each make our way to the outside of the car, car still descending, each on one side of the car, and then we would we would we would stand on the car's frame for a second, car still descending, each holding on to the open car door or the car roof, and then, ever so breifly, as the car was now only thirty feet or so above the water, seconds until impact, we would look at each other knowingly -- "You know what to do"; "Roger that" (we wouldn't actually say these words, wouldn't need to) -- and then we'd both, again simultaneously of course, push off the car, so as to allow the appropriate amount of space between our impact and the car's once we all landed, and then, as the Civic crashed into the ocean's mulchy glass, we would, too, though in impeccable divers' form, having changed our trajectory mid-flight, positioning our hands first, forward and cupped properly, our bodies perpendicular to the water, our toes pointed -- perfect! We'd plunge under, half-circle back to the surface and then break through, into the sun, whip our heads to shake the water from our hair and then swim to each other, as the car with bubbles quickly drowned.

ME: Whew! That was close!

HE: I'll say!

ME: You hungry?

HE: You read my mind.

Now that's an effective use of stream-of-consciousness, Dave!

The scene between Dave and the little league moms was also beautiful, just beautifully done. Eggers has a real knack for setting up true-to-life scenes that define his character very well. His growing paternal feelings and overprotectiveness toward his little brother are so well-described in this scene, along with the awkardness of not quite being in the same "league" as the moms.

I watch, and the mothers watch. I do not know how to interact with the mothers. Am I them? They occasionally try to include me in a conversation, but it's clear they don't know what to make of me. I look over and smile when one of them makes a joke that is laughed at by all. They laugh, I chuckle -- not too much, I don't want to seem overeager, but enough to say, "I hear you. I laugh with you. I share in the moment." But when the chuckling is over I am still apart, something else, and no one is sure what I am. They don't want to invest their time in the brother sent to pick up Toph while his mother cooks dinner or is stuck at work or in traffic. To them I'm a temp. A cousin maybe. The young boyfriend of a divorcee? They don't care.

F--- it. I don't want to be friends with these women, anyway. Why would I care? I am not them. They are the old model and we are the new.

I watch Toph interact with the other kids, scanning, suspecting.

Why are those kids laughing?

What are they laughing at? Is it Toph's hat? It's too big, right?

Who are those little pr--s? I'll break those little f---ers.

Oh.

Oh, it was that. Just that. Heh heh. Heh.

It just occurred to me that this contrasts nicely with the "People know" refrain from part 1. Then, Dave was conflicted (shame? anger? embarrassment?) that people know his mother's condition; here, he has similarly conflicting emotions because they don't know, and fill in the blanks (or so he imagines) with their own sordid imaginations. Just a side thought on that.

Perhaps it is the passage of time from how I was feeling when I first read the book in 2000, but this time I just want Egger's to lighten up, to reach into the story and say, "You know, you're feelings are valid... but you act as though no one else has gone through what you're experiencing."  The whole "we're owed" attitude is not something I experienced after my folks death, and I find it a rather annoying repeated phrase.

I think this might get to what Christian said earlier about not being part of this generation anymore. You know, we can probably all sympathize with Dave's feelings of being royally screwed by life (by God? Where is God, anyway? More on that later) but yeah, there's also the sense that this is your situation, and you're a smart enough guy to know the rest of the world isn't gonna be all smiles and extended hands - you're gonna have to adjust to this new role, and no one is gonna act like they owe you nuthin'.

Overall, though, I liked this chapter because it paints some vivid scenes and gives a sense of the changing relationship between the brothers.

So, the exhausting part - it's just hard to make myself pick up the book sometimes - not because I dislike it, but hard in the same way that it's hard to make myself go to the gym sometimes. Eggers' has a real knack for setting a memorable scene, but his rat-a-tat-tat stream-of-consciousness is just exhausting. I'm not a big fan of stream-of-consciousness anyway, although it can be effective. Here, Eggers' lack of discipline hurts the story -- or lack thereof? 'Cause maybe that's the real problem, that there's not really a single story to tell, but many connected stories.

Ahh, I think that's it. This'd be great as a series of essays or short stories: Travels with Toph. That might be Eggers' real talent instead of tackling a long, meandering memoir.

Now that I've written a post almost as long as Eggers' meandering memoir, I'll sign off for now ...

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So far, this was my favorite chapter. It continues the developing father-son/brother-brother awkardness between Dave and Toph and more importantly, it gives a good sense of Eggers' conflicting feelings (pretty justifiable) about inheriting the role of caretaker.

Now the real drama of the story begins, as Eggers struggles to convince potential landlords that he can afford to pay the rent using Toph's Social Security payments, and his, ummm, future income stream (he's unemployed). The two brothers adjust to the new reality of the "parent-child" relationship forced upon them by Dave's guardian status, even though he isn't sure what to ask of his younger brother, or command of him.

I loved these passages - we are always late, always half-done. I've felt like that, a lot actually, once we had a kid. And in his case, Dave is a kid himself who never learned to clean up after himself or clean up crumbs to avoid getting ants. He was just out of college, a time when a lot of parents are still paying their kids' bills, filling out all their paperwork ... and suddenly, he's the one who has to fill out the paperwork, make sure bills get paid on time, etc.

One of the shortest and most effective passages is when Eggers describes the landlord who "doesn't sound evil" on the phone. Then he meets Dave and Toph, and says something like, "Ohhhh, so how old are you guys, anyway?" Then he sort of good-naturedly leads them back to their car and lets them know, with a patronizing, 'who gives a s--t about you' response, that he won't be renting to them. He's not evil, he's just typical, unextraordinary, the 'you can see where I'm coming from' response the same response many of us would give someone in that situation. It strikes me as a sly little sidebar about the complex nature of 'good-naturedness,' this father-knows-best type rejecting Dave and Toph out of hand because he doesn't want to take the risk or get involved with their lives. Not that I'm judging the guy, because I might make the same call. But he might actually be one of the most unkind characters the brothers meet and he's disguised as a suburban nice guy (in liberal Berkeley, of all places, where you'd figure folks would just be dying to help out).

The scene where Dave lectures then threatens Toph about keeping the house clean had me laughing out loud. Toph's response, "But it's mostly your stuff,' and Dave's casual, "He's right" -- very funny. And a good way to define their relationship.

He is interested -- in the single mothers he hopes to hook up with on parent-teacher night.

I took this as Eggers' defense mechanism - trying to disguise the fact that he really does care about Toph and school and all that stuff that parents care about, by acting like all he wants is a hookup with some single mom.

The lead-up to this scene was pretty hilarious, I thought - Dave telling Toph to wake him up, Toph not waking him up, them being late .... very funny, and again, a very good way to display their relationship.

He also fears growing up, yet is scared of unsavory influences upon Toph. 

I like that Eggers gets into some of this stuff without lathering on the Gen X sardonic, ironic humor. He seems genuinely concerned when he describes the bad influences temporary girlfriends/boyfriends/babysitters could have on Toph. When Dave recites all the ways a new girlfriend can blow their relationship - by being insensitive to Toph, not sensitive enough, etc. - was funny but genuine. (Maybe I'm confused ... was this in chapter 4?)

Forgive me if this is from the wrong part of the book, but I am working from memory. In fact, just to make sure:

spoilers1.gif

One sequence that really struck from around this point in the story is Dave managing to get out one night, and wanting to soak it up as much as he can, make the most of his youth, etc.

Yeah, this is in part 5 (which I jusssst started .... more on that later)

Did anyone else find some of the stuff in the book really funny? I know a lot of it is juvenile and unnecessary, a lot of it panders to the whole Gen X thing, but scenes like the ones that made me laugh in this chapter just seem so true to life.

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I agree that the best thing about the chapter is Dave's imaginary conversation with Toph in which Toph deconstructs Dave's anxieties. It's also a way for Eggers to get into what might have been the unsavory aspects of his household, i.e. his father's drinking, and a general repressiveness where no one was supposed to talk about things that might be unpleasant.

On the other hand, it kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Eggers sort of casually criticizes himself - in Toph's voice - for exploiting his parents' death by writing about them. It's a schizophrenic approach - yeah, wink wink, I know it's distasteful to write all this stuff, but I've gotta do it, man, for my own sanity. At least that's how it comes off to me.

So, now for the million-dollar question: Where's God?

Eggers makes numerous references to being Catholic. To his mother attending church frequently. To his father's atheism. And oddly, the most spiritual part of the book so far was in part 1 when he describes his father's unwavering atheism, even in the face of death.

Where is Dave's Catholicism, exactly? He's not even a cultural Catholic, since he's got a pretty casual attitude toward one-night stands and orgies, and he doesn't seem to observe any types of traditions or even superstitions associated with religion.

I could handle it if he came down on the side of his father and declared himself an atheist. Or if he expressed some kind of feeling toward what he might view as an uncaring or indifferent God.

But nothin'? No reference at all to God or faith or religion, other than a few casual Catholic references?

This is what I hated so much about Generation X. (I was born in '65, and am kind of stuck between the Baby Boomers and Gen X, not really part of either generation.) Eight years ago I took a job as a newspaper editor and directly supervised two young reporters, both 20-somethings and fresh out of college. It always struck me how these two intelligent, well-bred people could have been so entirely ignorant about religion. I don't just mean they weren't religious, but they had no knowledge of anything regarding the world of religion, and had that Gen X attitude of "it's all good ... or bad ... or whatever ... it doesn't really affect me, so why think about it?"

Granted, I probably grew up in a more religious household than many peers, but this doesn't make sense to me. Hostile toward religion, OK. But irrelevant? How can the biggest question in the world be irrelevant? True or false, the existence of God is HUGE. How could smart people miss that?

That's the feeling I get reading this book. Eggers is smart, obviously, has some depth ... but yet no mention at all, not even a cameo appearance, for God. There are a few hints that he might not believe anything when he says he doesn't want Toph exposed to a parade of boyfriends/girlfriends because it will leave him "susceptible to the dubious allure of ashrams, kibbutzes and Jesus."

So that's it? It's all bad? See, that's the Gen X thing that just kills me: "I don't understand it, so I'll make fun of it." That tone damages a lot of the book.

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Hostile toward religion, OK. But irrelevant? How can the biggest question in the world be irrelevant? True or false, the existence of God is HUGE. How could smart people miss that?

I get the point, but the question I would have thought is the more important is this: how and why has religion become the kind of thing that a whole generation could end up seeing as irrelevant? And I guess it's an even bigger question when you consider that this is a book which largely covers real struggles for meaning, making sense of death etc, and yet religion is absent.

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I find a lot of it very funny - that diagram of their house, indicating how far you can slide on the wooden floor, the 'Your hat smells of urine' conversation.

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So this is the point where the book "kind of falls apart" by Eggers' own admission. Like Christian mentioned in his first post, who thought Eggers was serious?

The book definitely loses steam here, for me anyway. Maybe this is the generation gap thing; 15 years ago I probably would have thought the bar scene (in the book and in real life) was really cool, but now, like Shania Twain sang, it don't impress me much.

I could relate to Dave's feelings of guilt and paranoia when he leaves Toph with the (English? Scottish? Irish?) babysitter he barely knew. (The first time my wife and I left our daughter with a sitter we had that exact discussion ... how much do we know about this kid, anyway?)

The big problem that becomes apparetn with this chapter is that Dave's struggle after his parent's death and becoming a caretaker is really interesting, and I really care what happens to him and Toph in those chapters. The other stuff - his budding career, circle of friends, sexual longings - is all pretty ordinary and uninteresting to me. Once Toph is out of the picture the story just sort of plods.

Eggers' friends seem to feel the same way since in this chapter they all keep asking, "where's your brother?" Maybe I'm not giving him enough credit and he does this intentionally to make the point that he and Toph are inseparable at this point.

The bit about the stolen wallet is kind of poignant, but not much else held my interest in part 5.

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I get the point, but the question I would have thought is the more important is this: how and why has religion become the kind of thing that a whole generation could end up seeing as irrelevant? And I guess it's an even bigger question when you consider that this is a book which largely covers real struggles for meaning, making sense of death etc, and yet religion is absent.

Excellent point, stu. Any theories about why that is? I guess the easiest explanation is that Gen X is an amalgamation of the 60s (its parents' generation, throwing out all authoritarian figures including God and church); the 70s (it's all about me, random sex and experimentation); and 80s (consumerism, careerism). I don't know if that washes, but it's one theory. In Eggers' case especially it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because he obviously had those religious influences - his mother's Catholic faith; the fact that he refers several times to some form of Catholicism in his upbringing; and his father's atheism (not a religious influence per se, but having a church-going mother and atheist father really must have intensified all those spiritual questions we all ask ourselves at one point).

Anyway, it doesn't make sense to me that, like you mentioned, in a book about this particular guy's grieving and struggling for meaning, the question of God wouldn't be raised at all. That makes me wonder if it isn't wasn't a conscious decision on Eggers' and/or his editors' part to leave the God question out of it because it just wouldn't appeal to the book's intended audience?

Side note: One of the books I've been meaning to read is Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X by Catholic theologian Tom Beaudoin. If anyone out there wants to continue the book club idea, that would be one of my nominees for the next selection.

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The bit about the stolen wallet is kind of poignant, but not much else held my interest in part 5.

I don't know. That was my favorite scene in the entire book. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I felt, for once, caught up in the "action," so to speak, rather than feeling like a bystander.

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Mark wrote:

: Side note: One of the books I've been meaning to read is Virtual Faith: The Irreverent

: Spiritual Quest of Generation X by Catholic theologian Tom Beaudoin.

FWIW, my review of this book was one of the very first things I ever wrote for Books & Culture; my review is online, but now it's buried in one of those pages that you have to pay for.

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Mark wrote:

: Side note: One of the books I've been meaning to read is Virtual Faith: The Irreverent

: Spiritual Quest of Generation X by Catholic theologian Tom Beaudoin.

FWIW, my review of this book was one of the very first things I ever wrote for Books & Culture; my review is online, but now it's buried in one of those pages that you have to pay for.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, Peter. I've got a copy of Beaudoin's latest book, Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We are with What We Buy, on a shelf, waiting for its place in line to come up.

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So, the exhausting part - it's just hard to make myself pick up the book sometimes - not because I dislike it, but hard in the same way that it's hard to make myself go to the gym sometimes. Eggers' has a real knack for setting a memorable scene, but his rat-a-tat-tat stream-of-consciousness is just exhausting. I'm not a big fan of stream-of-consciousness anyway, although it can be effective. Here, Eggers' lack of discipline hurts the story -- or lack thereof? 'Cause maybe that's the real problem, that there's not really a single story to tell, but many connected stories.

Hey, is it egotistical to quote myself?

Just happened to find this link and thought it was a funny read, relevant to some of my earlier criticism of Eggers' writing. Thought I'd share.

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laugh.giflaugh.gif

Good stuff, Mark.

And fans of Eggers can link to a rebuttal at the end of the first piece.

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I agree with Christian that the scene with the stolen wallet was one of my favorite scenes in the book. It is well-written, and it's nice to see a nice "action" scene in the midst of the introspective stuff. I found the juxtapostion interesting between the wallet and how Dave viewed his relationship with his father: Dave never realized the value of his relationship until it was gone. Such is the way we sometimes don't realize the value of what's truly important until it's too late.

I thought the description of Dave's night out without Toph was poignant, because it captures the emptiness of parties, random sex, and how one can feel totally alone in a sea of people.

I don't think the story totally falls apart here. However, it seems to me that Dave is starting to spin his wheels, going over the same themes over and over again.

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I'm not quite through this chapter, but figured I'd post the topic now and some thoughts while I have a few minutes.

The criticisms of Eggers' style still stand (too many words, too many random thoughts, brain dump, etc.) but so far I've liked this chapter a lot better than I expected. First, from his opening evaluation of "The Real World"'s popularity:

"Has anyone seen the show?"

"No."

"No."

"Some of it."

We're all lying, of course. Eveyone's seen the show. We all despise it, are enthralled by it, morbidly curious. Is it interesting because it's so bad, because the stars of it are so profoundly boring? Or is it because in it we recognize so much that is maddeningly familiar? Maybe this is indeed us. Watching the show is like listening to one's voice on tape: it's real of course, but however mellifluous and articulate you hear your own voice, once it's sent through this machine and is given back to you, it's high-pitched, nasal, horrifying. Are our lives that? Do we talk like that, look like that? Yes. It could not be. It is. No.

I expected to hate the mock interview section of this chapter, where Eggers "recreates" the interview he did with MTV. Instead, I thought it was a good way to reconstruct, in a post-modern way, the traditional setup of a memoir. Eggers gives the reader -- albeit, very self-consciously -- insight into the "big themes" he wants to hit in his endless self-analysis (read: analysis of Gen X). In particular, I thought this exchange was very good (my bold added):

... squeezing all these things into the Q&A makes complete the transition from the book's first half, which is slightly less self-conscious, to the second half, which is increasingly self-devouring. Because, see, I think what my town, and your show, reflect so wonderfully is that the main by-product of the comfort and prosperity that I'm describing is a sort of pure, insinuating solipsism, that in the absence of struggle against anything in the way of a common enemy -- whether that's poverty, Communists, whatever -- all we can do, or rather, all those of us with a bit of self-obsession can do --

Wait a second, how many of you do you think are so self-obsessed?

All the good ones. Or rather, there's actually two ways the self-obsession manifests itself: those that turn it inward, and those that turn it outward. For instance, I have this friend John who just channels it all inward -- he talks about his problems, his girlfriend, his poor prospects, how his parents died, on and on, to the point of paralysis -- he literally isn't interested in anything else. It's his whole world, the endless exploration of his dark mind, this haunted house of a brain.

And the other kind?

The people who think their personality is so strong, their story so interesting, that others must know it and learn from it.

Let me guess here, you --

Well, I pretend that I'm the latter, but I'm really the former, and desperately so. But still, my feeling is that if you're not self-obsessed you're probably boring. Not that you can always tell the self-obsessed. The best sort of self-obsessed person isn't outwardly so. But they're doing something more public than not, making sure people know that they're doing it, or will know about it sooner or later. I guarantee that the applicants for The Real World -- I guarantee that if you put all these tapes in a time capsule and opened it in twenty years, you'd find that these are the people who are, in one way or another, running the world -- at the very least, they'll be the most visible segment of the demographic. Because we've grown up thinking of ourselves in relation to the political-media-entertainment ephemera, in our safe and comfortable homes, given the time to think about how we would fit into this or that band or TV show or movie, and how we would look doing it. These are people for whom the idea of anonymity is existentially irrational, indefensible. And thus, there is a lot of talking about it all -- surely the cultural output of this time will reflect that -- there'll be a lot of talking, whole movies full of talking, talking about talking, ruminating about talking about wondering, about our place, our wants and obligations -- the blathering of the belle epoque, you know. Environmentally reinforced solipsism.

This gave me a much clearer view of why this book became so popular and acclaimed, because Eggers tries to summarize his generation from an insider's viewpoint. And he's someone who actually has an interesting story to tell, unlike his Real World counterparts. That makes the interview session all the more ironic, that he has to create this on-screen persona - the "Tragic Guy" - in order to have any hope of getting on the show over the various assortment of self-obsessed peers who probably don't have much of an interesting back story.

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On the contrary, Mark, I watched the third season of The Real World

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On the contrary, Mark, I watched the third season of The Real World

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Did Eggers actually make it onto a portion of the show? I've skipped ahead a bit in the book, and see that he becomes friends with Judd, but I didn't know Eggers got any camera time.

Yeah, he says that Judd comes to the magazine to submit some art work, and the camera crews follow along. He drops by more than once, giving Eggers

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I thought this was a pretty interesting chapter. The Real World interview was illuminating, illustrating the stark difference between "reality" television and true reality, as represented by Dave's backstory. It's telling that "Tragic Guy" wasn't considered interesting enough for the show's producers.

This chapter contains what I think is the funniest scene from the entire book, the filming of the first Might magazine cover. It was very funny how they tried to create an edgy daring picture by having a group of naked people running on a beach. First they had to try to obtain a politically-correct cross-section of people from various ethnic backgrounds, then they found out that running naked on a cool day has certain, uh, other complications. wink.gif

I thought Dave's descripton of his dad's alcoholism was striking. (I think this was in this chapter, I'm just going from some notes I took). It was interesting how the children dealt with father's behavior in their games they made up, it's left to the reader to decide whether the games were a means of trying to escape truly hurtful behavior, or just a reaction against the emptiness of the suburban culture in which they were raised, in which people live beyond their means in order to have the prestige of living in a certain zip code?

The exploration of the culture of mediocrity in the high school social sphere was pretty telling, how kids that were seen as overly rich or successful were seen as outcasts unless they dumbed themselves down in order to fit in.

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I thought Dave's descripton of his dad's alcoholism was striking. 

This was striking for me, too. Especially the way Eggers cut up the narrative and reassembled it - part Tarantino, part telling the story the way you would if you were sitting around talking. At the start of the book, we get a brief picture of Dave's father as kind of a wacky, fun-loving guy whose life was cut short by cancer. Then in the MTV interview, we get a much more revealing picture of an angry alcoholic. I like the way this stuff unfolds, kind of casually, without a lot of REVELATION!!! that you'd get in a tell-all type of memoir.

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A few things in this chapter stood out for me, even if they don't much advance what passes for a plot.

1. The scenes involving his friend's attempted suicide seem like they're hyper-influenced by Tarantino. It kept reminding me of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman ODs, and Travolta and his pals have to revive her. There's a sense of horror that the writer can mine such strong comedy from a really ugly situation. The scene with the cops, who seem so huge and their pens and notebooks seem so tiny, is really funny, even as John is about to or already has downed a bunch of pills. And Dave worrying whether he should offer the cops some grapes!

2. Eggers is very clever at deconstructing the writer as cannibal, feasting on all the tragedy surrounding him as good source material.

So there is first the experience, the friend and the threatened suicide, then there are the echoes from these things having been done before, then the awareness of echoes, the anger at the presence of echoes, then the acceptance, embracing of presence of echoes -- as enrichment -- and above all the recognition of the value of the friend threatening suicide and having stomach pumped, as both life experience and also as fodder for experimental short story or passage in novel, not to mention more reason to feel experientially superior to others one's age, especially those who have not seen what I have seen, all the things I have seen.

Later, when John gets up from his hospital bed to "leave" Dave's book because "I'm not going to be a f---ing anecdote in your stupid book" -- very clever, another self-conscious way for Dave to explore the way a writer exploits the people around him and regurgitates their experiences, no matter how horrible.

3. Most interesting part of the book for me is still Dave's relationship with Toph. Really liked the descriptions of Toph believing he's part of Dave's peer group, the same age as they are. I could identify with this because my three siblings are all quite a bit older, and I'd always end up hanging with them (or trying to, anyway), sucking up their music, their TV and movies, to the point where I sometimes got a little too big for my breeches and forgot how to act like a regular kid with other kids my age.

Also like how the stuff with Dave and Toph in the park reveals a lot about Dave's reliance on his brother.

But as much as I want to encourage his mingling with his own age group, I fear that if he becomes too involved elsewhere, he won't be ever-available for my own needs. What would one do if one did not have a Toph, sitting in his room, ready at a moment's notice, always willing to run one's errands, to be pushed against a wall and have his kidney punched, to be brought, as he is at the moment, to the Berkeley Marina, for the throwing back and forth of things? To not have Toph would be to not have a life.

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I agree with what you said about how the attempted suicide scene was written, it seems like a scene from a Tarantino movie or a TV drama. Eggers raises some interesting points about the difference between a real near-tragedy and how it is played out in a work of fiction, the line between reality and fiction becoming blurred. Eggers communicates a sense of detachment here, as if he can't figure out how to deal with the situation, so he imagines it as a chapter in his book. The humor he draws out of the situation seems to be a coping mechanism.

The stuff about launching Might Magazine I didn't find as compelling, although there are a few interesting points about how a humanistic endeavor can turn on itself into self-centered cynicism.

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Nothing much stood out for me in this chapter, except the Christmas scene was amusing. Funny to read the exchanges between Beth and Dave as they try to torture poor Toph, keep him from tearing into his Christmas presents.

Also amusing to read about Might's parody issue called "Twenty in their 20s." It's a pretty spot-on satire of those silly "movers and shakers" pronouncements magazines like to do.

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Pretty entertaining chapter, with the whole thing about finding a celebrity whose death might have fallen under the media's radar, and settling on Adam Rich. Good deconstruction in the imaginary conversation with Toph on why it's so sick to do a "fake celebrity death" issue.

These people have already attained, at whatever age, a degree of celebrity you a--holes will never reach, and you feel, deep down, that because there is no life before or after this, that fame is, essentially, God -- all you people know that, believe it, even if you don't admit it. As children you watched him, in the basement, cross-legged in front of the TV, and you thought you should be him, that his lines were yours, that his spot on Battle of the Network Stars was yours, that you'd be so good on the obstacle course - you'd win for sure! So doing all this, when he's no longer such the world-conquering celebrity, gives you power over him, the ability to embarrass him, to equalize the terrible imbalance you feel about your relationship to those who project their charisma directly, not sublimated through snarky little magazines. You and everyone like you, with your Q&As or columns or Web sites - you all want to be famous, you want to be rock stars, but you're stuck in this terrible bind, where you also want to be thought of as smart, legitimate, permanent. So you do your little thing, are read by your little coterie, while secretly seething about the Winona Ryders and Ethan Hawkes ...

The stuff with Shalini almost dying when the deck collapsed -- I'm not really sure of the point of including that stuff. I guess Eggers gets at that later, during one of his imaginary conversations with "John" when he says the only people Eggers will include in his book are the ones with tragic circumstances. But honestly, I couldn't for the life of me remember who Shalini even was (or Meredith, Moodie, etc.), much less figure out why we were supposed to be moved by her near-death. All Dave's friends just kind of blended together throughout the book. I wasn't interested enough in any of them to go back and figure out who was who.

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This chapter pretty much made the whole book for me. Dave's quest to go back to Chicago, find his parents' remains, confront the doctors who took their organs - very moving, filled with conflicting emotions.

The scene in the church was devastating: Dave remembering what he expected at his mother's funeral (capacity crowd, weeping priests, and then the roof comes off, and his mother appears, smiling like she always did, before ascending) vs. the reality.

This is the crowd that was at my father's. It should not be the same crowd, the same number! They were not the same, these two lives. Where are the people from town? Where are the parents of her former students? Where are my friends? Where are the world's people to honor her passing? Was it too gruesome? Are we too vulgar? What is happening? All she put in, all she gave for you people, she gave everything for you people and this is -- She fought for so long for all you people, she fought every day, she fought everything, fought for every breath until the last, sucking everything she could out of the air in that brown living room, gasped again and again, it was unbelievable, yes, she grabbed at the air, grabbed for us and for you, and where are you?

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