It must require nerves of absolute steel to name your debut novel "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." The title alone instantly gives easily bated critics the ammunition to attack even before thumbing its pages. And indeed, Dave Eggers has nerves of steel. He proves it with almost every piece of work he releases and, when he misses, it's not from lack of a swing.
"A Heartbreaking Work" is a memoir following Eggers after the loss of both his parents at 22. He became the unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother and, through that, discovered the kind of man he was going to be. Whether or not you agree that the novel is genius, passages like, "We lose weeks like buttons, like pencils," or "Dignity is an affectation, cute but eccentric, like learning French or collecting scarves," gives credence to the thought.
Over the last 16 years, Eggers has dabbled in both fiction and non-fiction, but none of his work feels cut from the same cloth. "You Shall Know Our Velocity" is a travelogue akin to Kerouac's "On the Road," while "What is the What" tracks Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, as he crosses the country as a refugee. The novels (as disparate as they are) complement each other thematically in their unflinching exploration into simple human empathy between strangers and family.
His screenplay for 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are" puts that empathy even further into the forefront, as he (and co-writer/director Spike Jonze) not only find the voice and feel of childhood, but flawlessly chart the moments it departs. Instead of writing what the studio probably thought would be a straightforward adaptation of the children's classic, Eggers created a heartbreaking (there's that word again) piece of catharsis for men and women who lost something irreplaceable the moment they decided to "grow up." Nerves of steel.
His latest novel, "Heroes of the Frontier" once again confronts his themes of loss and change while setting his characters traveling through the wilds of Alaska. As much of the world as his novels allow us to see through his eyes, Eggers always travels much further into what brings us together as humanity. His work is sometimes bold and always fearless... just as he wants us to be. In case you're not convinced, come and check him out when he visits Bend as part of the Deschutes Public Library's Author! Author! series.
Author! Author! presents Dave Eggers
Thursday, Jan. 19, 7pm
Bend High, 230 NE 6th St., Bend