Amazing memoir

Rating: NNNNNThe title screams arrogance, the preface starts with the claim that there's no point in reading it -- so.

Rating: NNNNN

The title screams arrogance, the preface starts with the claim that there’s no point in reading it — so I don’t — and before page two of this memoir, Dave Eggers’s self-referential style is so grating, I can barely turn the page.

But then I do — and an achingly beautiful book unfolds.

After his parents die of cancer within months of each other, Eggers becomes the guardian of his seven-year-old brother, Toph.

His older brother and sister are stable professionals, while Eggers is scrounging as a freelance graphic designer with ambitions in alternative media.

But Toph and he are suddenly bonded, and Eggers knows something is right about their partnership. He gets inside it with reveries on the glories of playing frisbee or fantasies about how a perfect team of two can survive a car crash, all of which comes tumbling out in an effortless rush of images and emotions.

At the same time, he’s refreshingly open about the self-absorption of people in their 20s. He has deep insight into this frame of mind precisely because he can’t indulge it any more. He’s responsible for something outside himself. And so this memoir is about coping day-to-day with losing complete control of your life just at the moment when you’re supposed to be busting out into independence.

It’s also a raw account of death and dying. The book’s stunning opening chapter wastes no time getting to the hard stuff in a sublime sequence evoking a mother and son reversing roles.

Halfway through the story, when Eggers dips into a hilarious but long digression on his pursuit of a role on MTV’s RealTV, his egocentric excess makes sense. By the time he’s wrestled with his predilection for mining tragedy for his own artistic gain, I’ve forgiven him the title.

And by the end, I’ve relented altogether and, wanting more, go back to read the preface, even though it’s in very tiny type.

One of the year’s best books.

Check out the author, who is also the editor of the quarterly McSweeney’s, at the Horseshoe tonight (Thursday, May 11 see Readings, this page).

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