Generation X's True Believer

For Dave Eggers, it aint just marketing its an orgy

The rhetoric here is both overheated and coolly knowing, exhibitionistic and sublime—like David Foster Wallace on The Jerry Springer Show—and by the time the interviewer asks, "And that will heal you?" and Eggers responds, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" Eggers attains a kind of little-boy-lost-in-the-TV tone that is brave, scary, vulnerable and deranged all at once. If this isn't enough, Eggers ends the book with an (equally self-conscious) hysterical appeal to merge with the "47 million" (the number of Gen-Xers supposedly out there): "I am one with you," he screams, as if by telling the story of his family tragedy—crucifying himself on the cross of self-exposure—he can exorcise and exonerate himself.

That he tries to burn out his pain by melting into some idea of generational unification is telling and, I think, sad. Harold Rosenberg once wrote, "Belonging to a generation is one of the lowest forms of solidarity," but it's one of the few things that links Eggers to anything larger than himself. He really believes in Generation X, that it has substance beyond the pervasive images offered to us by the target marketers who almost immediately usurped it after the novel Generation X appeared on the scene. (That the tone of Eggers' ironic wit is sometimes very much like a sophisticated marketing pitch points to some dangerous blind spots in Eggers' vision.) But his generation has almost nothing to do with the fact that Eggers' mother and father died on him, not really, and so his appeal to it has an air of unreality in a book that's otherwise sweet and brazen, vulnerable and tough-hearted, everything we love in young American writers.

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by DAVE EGGERS; SIMON & SCHUSTER. 375 PAGES, hardcover; $24.
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