Monday, May 12, 2008

Fast, Day One

I've been thinking about saying something about Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius since I finished it a few days ago. I can't think of much to say, though. I think I should. I think this book should be important to me, should say something fundamental about me. I hope that it doesn't.

I found it on my bookshelf not long ago, and I was unable to recall how it got there. I had a suspicion that Big Brother had loaned it to me, probably several years ago, and that I had shelved and promptly forgotten it. The night that I went out with Biggest Brother and him, I asked him about it, and he confirmed that he had indeed passed the book into my hands. He also reminded me that he hadn't done so with a ringing endorsement, but more of an idea that "maybe you could get something out of it." He'd read it with ambivalence and shared it with a caveat.

As a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, and of course as a heartbreaking work of staggering genius written by a white male only two years my senior who also grew up in the suburbs of a large American city, I thought this book would speak about me. Or at least to me. I came to adulthood through the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. I left those suburbs for the Cosmopolitan Coastal City. I felt for a time that vague sense that We, the Youth of America, Were on the Cusp of Greatness, that We Were Going to Straighten All This Mess Right Out, Though the Details of How Were a Little Bit Hazy. Our music was new, our art was new. We had piercings and tattoos. This book should speak to me. But it didn't. I didn't passionately like or dislike it. I was surprised that I got through it as quickly as I did, because I never felt that burning need to pick it up and get in a few more chapters.

I could say more about it, but there's no need to. The author has already covered every avenue of criticism in the several preceding sections. He gives us "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book," in which he more or less tells us not to read it, or at least not to read very much of it. In Acknowledgements, he covers all criticisms of himself that might be brought about by the title. He also provides his own analysis of 26 different aspects of the book. He criticizes the book. He criticizes himself. He criticizes himself for criticizing himself and the book. Before the reader has even reached the first chapter, he's already buried at least six layers deep in irony and has no hope of ever having an honest emotional or intellectual reaction to any of the characters or events to follow.

It made me sad. If this book says anything about me, or about My Generation (Generation X, or the Pepsi Generation), it says that we are painfully insecure and overly educated. Our grand idea of how to change the world was to ridicule it. Irony was the highest art. We made fun of everything and everyone, including ourselves. Especially ourselves. We made fun of everyone for making fun of everything. We accomplished nothing. We made fun of those who did. And we watched a lot of TV.

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