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these works, it's their "unexpectedness "—of theme, of metaphor and especiaUy of language. Carson turns nouns into verbs and jumbles the placement of words within phrases and sentences. AU her games with language, like well-wrought metaphors , blaze new paths of understanding . Less engaging than the poems are Carson's scholarly essays. A particularly long essay, peppered with endnotes, "The Phenomenology of Female PoUution in Antiquity," is dry reading compared to Carson's vivid poems on similar subjects. One suspects Carson is anticipating the reader's reaction when she says, in an earUer poem, "the chief aim of philology /is to reduce all textual deUght/ to an accident of history." (RY) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers Simon & Schuster, 2000, 375 pp., $23 The current popularity of memoirs that detail the author's personal pain and suffering, perhaps best iUustrated by the 1997 pubUcation of Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss, is a real concern for Dave Eggers as he begins to write the story of his own complicated young adulthood. "Oh no!" a friend exclaims when Eggers reluctantly admits that he's writing "a memoiry thing." Eggers acknowledges that writing about oneself may in fact be a bad idea, but he avoids the pitfalls of self-conscious writing by undercutting the pathos of his experience with humor and genuine insight. The true story on which Eggers' memoir is based—and he freely admits that portions of the story are fictionalized—begins with the death of his parents, who succumb to cancer within five weeks of one another. His mother's death is a protracted ordeal, recounted in honest and moving detail, but his father's death is completely unexpected. In the ensuing maelstrom of arrangements and responsibilities, Eggers assumes guardianship of his eight-year-old brother, Toph, and the two move to Berkeley, where their sister, Beth, is in law school. There Eggers begins to grapple with having become, at twenty-two, a member of "the glowering Berkeley parentiscenti." Eggers is a writer of formidable talent, with a keen eye for detaU and a predilection for the absurd. Small wonder, then, that he takes such delight in chronicling the schizophrenic experience of acting as brother-cum-father at a time in his Ufe when he isn't entirely willing to abandon the hedonistic pleasures of being young and single. And in fact, the memoir is most engaging when Eggers sticks to his struggle with suddenly having become a parent. On a rare night out, he finds himself more concerned with the reliabUity of Toph's baby-sitter than his own enjoyment . He agonizes over the influence he now has on Toph, concerned that offering too little attention will lead his brother "to join some River's Edge kind of gang, too much flannel and too Utile remorse," or worse yet, "to join some harmonizing pop group from Florida." Grieving his own loss, Eggers is always aware that for Toph, still at a crucial stage in his psychological and emotional development, the loss is that much more profound, the stakes that much higher. 178 · The Missouri Review Even when we foUow Eggers on one of many tangential plot lines—a lengthy account of his encounter with a gang of Hispanic teenagers on the beach, a stiU longer account of his interview for MTV's The Real World— we're amused and curious about what's going to happen. Eggers is always on the lookout for that moment when his story becomes more about the pleasure of telling than the pleasure of reading, and it's hard to walk away from such a considerate raconteur—even when you're not exactly sure where his story is headed. Like David Foster WaUace (who offers high praise for the memoir on its back cover), Eggers is a writer who delights in breaking the rules, writing a not-entirely-autobiographical account of a not-entirely-believable situation that is, strangely enough, the truth. In the same way that his story defies imagination, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius defies the reader to point out what could be lost without harming the whole. In the end, every scene seems essential to the...


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