Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Club: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

**May contain some spoilers**
Well, I failed, you guys.  I actually started reading a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius early, back in February, but to be honest, I’m still not even halfway through. Even worse, I don’t think it’s the book’s fault….at least not entirely. I tend to easily emotionally invest in fictional characters, for one, and the parts of this that I’ve read so far have been so damn depressing. And not in a “wow, that was a sad story” kind of way, but in a visceral sort of “this book is literally continuing to affect my mood for days after I put it down” kind of way. (I guess the word “heartbreaking” is in the title, so I should have been prepared…..but I was not prepared.) Knowing it was a true story made it even that much harder. So I did what I tend to do with hard emotional things—I avoid them. I started avoiding the book. “I’m too busy today.” “I just need a break from it; maybe I’ll read something else for a while.”  “I’ll just skip ahead to the next month’s book and come back to it.”

The problem is, I never came back to it. I really should have known, because the last book that affected me this deeply was Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which I started years ago….and still haven’t picked back up. I like to think that I'll come back to AHWoSG, though; for one, I'm really hopeful that later on in the book, some good things can happen to this poor family, for one. More than that, though, I hope that I will continue to process through some unresolved grief that was apparently hiding, unbeknownst to me, below the surface.

I should probably add that, even though the book is 15+ years old, I really knew nothing about it. I picked it up at a thrift shop because I remembered my college boyfriend reading What is the What, (another Dave Eggers book) and raving about it years ago. So I knew that, and then, you know, it was nominated for a Pulitzer. So when I was introduced to Dave's mother a couple pages in, and she's dying from cancer in very graphic detail, Ijust wasn't prepared for the feelings and memories that would surface.

I should clarify for new readers: 2011 was rough for me. Actually, it was the worst year of my life. Two close family friends, my uncle, my father, and my grandfather all died that year, my grandfather after a long battle with cancer (you might be starting to see why the book was a little rough for me from the get-go). After 4 solid years, I thought I had dealt with everything (I mean, I've got a couple psychology degrees under my belt, so I kinda know the process). But it's weird how just reading about someone else's similar experiences can bring back so many memories and emotions. For me, it was a pretty brutal reminder of just how not over it I really was.

I read somewhere once that grief is like glitter: you keep finding pieces of it everywhere, weeks, months, or even years after you thought you cleaned it all up. I found some specks shimmering in the first chapter of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, so it appears I have some more cleaning to do.

Have you read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius? What did you think?

**NOTE: I'm switching up the book for this month; I'm in the queue for Fates and Furies at the library, but there are still a few people ahead of me, so I'm skipping on to East of the Mountains by David Guterson. Hopefully the line goes quickly! Feel free to read along, and send any suggestions my way for new books that I can put on the list for upcoming months!

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