A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Eggers and Toph’s older sister. Like Eggers, Beth takes on childcare responsibilities when their mother and father both die, leaving Toph without any parents. Although Eggers is the one who becomes Toph’s primary guardian, he and Beth help one another simulate parenthood. When they move to Berkeley, California while Beth attends law school, they establish rules about how they will split these duties. They decide to refrain from introducing Toph—at least in his younger years—to significant others. When Eggers goes out for an evening in San Francisco, he leaves Toph with Beth, at least until Toph is old enough to stay with a babysitter or stay home by himself. Beth is perhaps the only person who understands Eggers’s life, since she knows what goes into taking care of Toph while simultaneously maintaining a social life and a professional life. Unlike Eggers, she isn’t so interested in unpacking her family’s history, unless this means sitting with Toph and sentimentally showing him old photo albums to make sure he remembers his parents. Eggers, on the other hand, fixates on more tangible things, like what happened to his parents’ ashes after they were cremated (he and Beth never picked them up and then moved too many times to have received them in the mail). Finally, when he’s ready to get serious about tracking down their parents’ remains, Beth tells him that the crematorium eventually found her and called her, but she said she didn’t want the remains. “What do we want with some stupid ashes?” she asks Eggers.

Beth Eggers Quotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quotes below are all either spoken by Beth Eggers or refer to Beth Eggers. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius published in 2001.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I’ll keep sharp objects out of proximity, I had joked to the doctor. The doctor did not chuckle. I wondered if he had heard me. I considered repeating it, but then figured that he had probably heard me but had not found it funny. But maybe he didn’t hear me. I thought briefly, then, about supplementing the joke somehow, pushing it over the top, so to speak, with the second joke bringing the first one up and creating a sort of one-two punch. No more knife fights, I might say. No more knife throwing, I might offer, heh heh. But this doctor does not joke much. Some of the nurses do. It is our job to joke with the doctors and nurses. It is our job to listen to the doctors, and after listening to the doctors, Beth usually asks the doctors specific questions […] and sometimes I ask a question, and then we might add some levity and a witty aside. I know that I should joke in the face of adversity; there is always humor, we are told. But in the last few weeks, we haven’t found much. We have been looking for funny things, but have found very little.

Related Characters: Dave Eggers (speaker), Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers), Beth Eggers
Page Number: 11
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Would we have enough towels? God no. We could use sheets, we have plenty of sheets— It might be only a few hours. Would that be enough time? What’s enough time? We would talk a lot. Yes. We would sum up. Would we be serious, sober, or funny? We would be serious for a few minutes— Okay okay okay okay. Fuck, what if we ran out of things to say and— We’ve already made the necessary arrangements. Yes, yes, we wouldn’t need to talk details. We’d have Toph come up. Would we have Toph come up? Of course, but… oh he shouldn’t be there, should he? Who wants to be there at the very end? No one, no one. But for her to be alone…of course she won’t be alone, you’ll be there, Beth’ll be there, dumb-ass. Fuck.

Page Number: 24
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Chapter 3 Quotes

It’s an effort […] to let him know, if it weren’t already obvious, that as much as I want to carry on our parents’ legacy, he and I will also be doing some experimenting. And constantly entertaining, like some amazing, endless telethon. There is a voice inside me, a very excited, chirpy voice, that urges me to keep things merry, madcap even, the mood buoyant. Because Beth is always pulling out old photo albums, crying, asking Toph how he feels, I feel I have to overcompensate by keeping us occupied. I am making our lives a music video, a game show on Nickelodeon—lots of quick cuts, crazy camera angles, fun, fun, fun! It’s a campaign of distraction and revisionist history—leaflets dropped behind enemy lines, fireworks, funny dances, magic tricks.

Related Characters: Dave Eggers (speaker), Toph Eggers, Beth Eggers
Page Number: 88
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Chapter 4 Quotes

If when she comes over she questions anything about the state of the house—“Oh God, there’s food under the couch!” or even “Holy bachelor pad!”—or worse, any parental decisions made in her company or otherwise, she is first glared at in Toph’s presence, later lectured out of his earshot, and then becomes fodder for month-long trashings in conversations with Beth about people who know nothing about anything and how dare they say anything, these people, these lotus-eating simpletons who have never known struggle, who would never question other parents, but feel the right to question me, us, simply because we are new at it, are young, are siblings.

Related Characters: Dave Eggers (speaker), Toph Eggers, Beth Eggers
Page Number: 108
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You know, to be honest, though, what I see is less a problem with form, all that garbage, and more a problem of conscience. You’re completely paralyzed with guilt about relating all this in the first place, especially the stuff earlier on. You feel somehow obligated to do it, but you also know that Mom and Dad would hate it, would crucify you […]. But then again, I should say, and Bill and Beth would say—well, probably not Bill, but definitely Beth—that your guilt, and their disapproval, is a very middlebrow, middle-class, midwestern sort of disapproval. It’s superstition as much as anything—like the primitives who fear the camera will take their soul. You struggle with a guilt both Catholic and unique to the home in which you were raised. Everything there was a secret—for instance, your father being in AA was not to be spoken of, ever, while he was in and after he stopped attending. You never told even your closest friends about anything that happened inside that house. And now you alternately rebel against and embrace that kind of suppression.

Page Number: 115
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Chapter 10 Quotes

I had loved how vague it was before. Where are they? Well, that’s a good question. Where were they buried? Another interesting question. That was the beauty of my father’s way. We knew that he had been diagnosed, but not how sick he was. We knew that he was in the hospital, but then not how close he was. It had always felt strangely appropriate, and his departure was made complete, as was hers, by the fact that the ashes never found us in California, that we had moved, and moved again, and again, dodging, weaving.

Page Number: 374
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Beth Eggers Character Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the character Beth Eggers appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface to This Edition
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...watching his mother in the hospital while lying on an extra bed with his sister Beth and little brother Toph; Eggers’s botched attempt to paint a portrait of his friend’s dead... (full context)
Acknowledgements
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Eggers thanks the people who have allowed him to write about them, especially Beth and Toph. Moving on, he acknowledges that there are “perhaps too many memoir-sorts of books... (full context)
Chapter 1
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...TV and spitting green fluid into a small “plastic receptacle,” which Eggers and his sister Beth take turns emptying. The green fluid smells foul, but Eggers never comments on it. Six... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
A month earlier, Beth woke up early and went downstairs, where she found the front door open. It was... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...he works for something Eggers says has to do with “eastern European economics, privatization, conversion.” Beth, for her part, has been home all year because she deferred her first year of... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...“It is our job to listen to the doctors, and after listening to the doctors, Beth usually asks the doctors specific questions,” he notes. He points out that he “know[s]” he... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...retreats once more into the basement. Eggers then shifts gears again, narrating the moment that Beth saw their father kneeling outside. As she watched him, she noticed how slight he looked... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...mother’s nose has not stopped bleeding. She had another nosebleed two weeks ago, and when Beth was unable to stop the flow, she took her to the emergency room, where the... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...the liquid has blood and bile and blots of blackness in it. At this point, Beth comes home and asks what’s going on, and they tell her about the nosebleed. “Shit,”... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Six months before this episode with the bloody nose, Eggers’s father called him and Beth into the living room. He sat there smoking as they came into the room, and... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Beth takes Eggers’s place holding the ice to their mother’s nose, and Eggers goes downstairs to... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
When Beth goes back into the living room, Eggers contemplates how long it would take for his... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...reasoning, “Jesus, it’s not going to be nice, not with the blood everywhere.” He hears Beth’s voice from the living room saying, “Mom, we should go in.” Joining the conversation, he... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers once again describes Beth’s experience of watching their father as he knelt in the driveway. Recently, he had been... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...hit the doorframe—a promise he fails to keep. Once he loads her into the backseat, Beth comes into the garage with Toph, who sits in the station wagon’s rear seat. When... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
At the house after the funeral, Eggers and Beth talked to their father’s friend, a lawyer who carpooled with him every day. “He was... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...day in intensive care. She’s then put in a spacious room with large windows, which Beth calls the “death room” because there’s enough space for visitors. As their mother sleeps, Beth... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
While sitting with Eggers and Toph in the hospital, Beth remembers with a start that the next day is their mother’s birthday. She reminds Eggers,... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...tense, saying, “We’ll get her out in a few days.” He explains that he and Beth will take her home and install her in a hospital bed in the living room.... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...writes. Soon enough, the doses won’t be enough to soothe his mother, so he and Beth will order more and they will obtain permission to choose the dosage amount. They’ll give... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Still using the future tense, Eggers explains that he and Beth will sell the family house a week after their mother dies. Toph will finish third... (full context)
Chapter 2
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers and Toph live with Kirsten, Beth, and Beth’s friend in a sublet overlooking the Bay. Their lease only extends until the... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Eggers explains that he, Beth, and Toph left Chicago quickly, selling almost everything in the house. Now, everyone living in... (full context)
Chapter 3
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...glamorous as the sublet. Because he and Kirsten need time apart and neither he nor Beth want to live together anymore, he’s on his own in this hunt for an apartment.... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
...a financially savvy move, but he is desperate to find a place. Plus, he and Beth have decided that they will no longer feel guilty about spending money. Whereas their parents... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...for a temp agency that sends him to various companies for two- or three-day assignments. Beth—who is in her first year of law school—picks Toph up every day and brings him... (full context)
Chapter 4
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...about how he’d like to go out. Unfortunately, he knows he can’t, since he and Beth aren’t yet comfortable leaving Toph with a babysitter. This has made it hard for him... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...though he knows their parents would strongly disapprove. Having said that, though, he concedes that Beth would probably say that this guilt is very “middlebrow, middle-class, [and] midwestern,” something both Catholic... (full context)
Chapter 6
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...nothing but “an affectation” that is “fleeting” and “mercurial.” He also reveals that he and Beth never gave their parents a “proper burial.” They were cremated, he explains, so he and... (full context)
Chapter 8
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
...break up once and for all. Strangely enough, though, Kirsten chooses to move in with Beth, who has just finished her second year of law school and decided to move to... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that Toph is finally opening up to him about girls, since he normally talks to Beth about such matters. (full context)
Chapter 9
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...him in the lobby, of all places. Furious, he drops his little brother off at Beth’s and calls Sari from the lobby of her hotel. (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...out of the room. “What are you doing here?” Eggers asks, and Toph explains that Beth didn’t have any food, so she sent him back. In relative silence, Eggers drives Sari... (full context)
Chapter 10
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...wedding. He’s not thrilled about attending a wedding, and hopes it’ll be a traditional affair—at Beth’s wedding, which happened recently, almost nothing was conventional, and Eggers felt embarrassed by the entire... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
Eggers goes to Lake Michigan despite the cold and uses the payphone to call Beth. “You know about those ashes?” he says, asking if the cremation service ever called her.... (full context)